(The Root) — There's a lot not to like about Kobe Bryant. For one, no matter what he does, he manages to come across as smug and arrogant, something that has been a complaint of fellow players and fans alike.
Then there's the small detail of being accused of rape. Those charges were eventually dropped, but he ended up having to plead guilty to an unofficial crime (in the eyes of some) of cheating on his wife, which some members of the public treat as even more unforgivable. But now people seem to have found another reason to pile on Bryant, and I find myself in a position I never thought I would: defending him.
Bryant recently had his lawyers intervene to prevent his mother from auctioning off belongings from his early days as a young player. It didn't take long before the rumor mill was abuzz that this dispute is not really over his memorabilia.
It never is.
According to reports, the real dispute allegedly stems from Bryant the younger's willingness to provide a house for his mother, but not a house as expensive as the one she expressed interest in. Further complicating matters, allegedly, is that his in-laws, who are Latino, are said to be enjoying more luxurious accommodations.
Now, I don't know Bryant or his mother, so I don't know how true any of this is. What I do know is that he is being pilloried online by black Americans based purely on these rumors. A headline on one site with a predominantly black audience read, "Shady Kobe Bryant Keeps His Parents Living the Struggle While He and His Mexican In-Laws Ball Outrageous!" A sampling of the comments include these:
"He is one sick disgusting uncle tom buffoon!"
"Yep, typical Koon asz black male. Got the Mexicans living lavish and the woman who carried him and raised him can't get a nice crib."
Yet what seems to have gotten lost amid all this speculation (besides the obvious, which is that it's not really any of our business) is that it's his money. He earned it, and he should be able to give it or not to whomever he pleases, however much he pleases.
So why am I sticking my nose in this when I just said it's none of our business? Because the Bryant family saga is a high-profile symbol of a chronic illness that is crippling our community: Black Americans from all walks of life are struggling to set healthy financial boundaries with relatives. It's one of the reasons we see so many black athletes and entertainers go broke, but they are not the only ones who need these boundaries.
Many black Americans "make it" and believe that everyone they grew up with needs to enjoy the good life with them.
Then, when an athlete ends up broke at the end of his career, we judge him and ask, "Where did all of his money go?" Well, probably to buying various friends and family members a bunch of houses they didn't need and he couldn't afford.
This is not an issue that is specific to the black community, but we certainly seem to struggle with it more. From Allen Iverson to Antoine Walker and the many athletes of color featured in the ESPN documentary 30 for 30, black Americans who acquire wealth, particularly in sports or entertainment, struggle to ensure that it lasts past the days of their peak professional glory. According to Sports Illustrated:
* By the time they have been retired for two years, 78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.
* Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60 percent of former NBA players are broke.
The article goes on to explain that friends and family members either offering ill-advised financial advice or requesting handouts are among the biggest culprits behind athletes' shrinking bank accounts.
Athletes, of course, are not alone. The Jackson family has remained entangled in ongoing legal battles since the death of the family's star, Michael Jackson. According to a lengthy article in Vanity Fair, the superstar was supporting many of his adult siblings and their children.
Yet despite hearing these stories over and over again and seeing the collateral damage, many in our community continue to assume that there is only one appropriate response when a family member comes with his or her hand out: Yes.
But it's not. Sometimes you have to say no. Furthermore, if you earned your money, you have a right to say no. Maybe if more of us followed Bryant's lead in setting financial boundaries with the people we love, the racial wealth gap in our country might not be quite so large.
Don't get me wrong. I'd love to see Bryant privately resolve his family discord, because it's sad for all involved. I'd also love to see him give half his wealth to the United Negro College Fund or a comparable charity to help lift our community right alongside him. Who knows? Maybe he already has, or plans to.
But most of all I'd love to see him set a positive example by not becoming yet another sad, broke athlete statistic. Setting boundaries with those closest to him is the easiest way to do that. So I say, good for him.
Keli Goff is The Root's special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.