It has been two whole weeks since Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others perished in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles. I have spent the entire time trying to put my thoughts on his death together in a sensible way. So many of my friends and colleagues have said it much more eloquently than I thought I could.
As a resident of Los Angeles, this has been the longest two weeks of my life. You can’t go anywhere in this city without viewing his picture, hearing his name, seeing people wearing jerseys bearing the numbers 8 or 24—this was Kobe’s city. He owned L.A., and in death, he owns us. Our city buses still have “RIP Kobe” displayed on their marquees.
Los Angeles is in deep and heavy grieving, and I am grieving right along with my city.
I was not a Kobe fan, but I used to be. I have always respected his game and admired his determination and dedication to his craft, and I have been a loyal Laker fan all of my life, but it was the 2003 sexual assault allegation that made me see him differently. As a woman, the entire situation felt wrong, even though I didn’t yet have the language to explain why. So I continued to watch him, but I was wary.
After the allegation, and with his invention of the Black Mamba persona, he became otherworldly. I saw someone who I felt was full of himself—perhaps rightfully so, given what he brought to the game, but it was a turnoff, nonetheless.
I know for sure that I did not see Kobe completely until after he died. His death weighed on me heavily in the initial days after, and I could not explain why. I didn’t even particularly care for the man, so why did I get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes with every mention of him?
Maybe it was because his daughter went with him. Maybe it was because of all the other people who perished with him. Maybe it made me consider my own mortality.
As I grappled to make sense of the senseless, I noticed myself getting upset every time I saw a microphone being shoved into the face of someone who knew him as they were asked to talk on the spot about a friend they had just lost. It felt wrong. When I saw people bringing up the 2003 allegation, that felt wrong, but as a journalist, I understood why the question needed to be and would be asked of people.
We have the tendency to deify those we lose. Suddenly every bad thing they did goes away, and we only remember the good. We only talk about the good, because to talk about the bad feels like a betrayal.
It felt wrong to talk about the sexual assault allegation, but I began to realize how much of an important part of Kobe’s legacy even that incident was.
It was important because Kobe seemingly grew from it.
As The Glow Up Managing Editor Maiysha Kai put it so beautifully:
Kobe Bryant wasn’t a god. He wasn’t a superhero; though his athletic prowess was often otherworldly. Kobe was a man—a ridiculously talented basketball player, yes; but also a son, a husband, a father, a teammate, a friend, a philanthropist, and a person as flawed as any of us. By all accounts, he didn’t live in denial of that fact, so why should we?
Kobe gave a statement after the incident in which he acknowledged that although he felt the encounter was consensual, he could see how the young woman did not view it that way. He was contrite and repentant. He changed after that incident in more ways than one.
His basketball game became fiercer. We never heard stories of him cheating on his wife or being involved in an alleged sexual assault again. He began advocating to make the world better for women and girls. He did the work.
It is in that reconciliation work he did on his own that I am able to see Kobe fully. I had stopped paying attention to anything about him other than basketball. I didn’t want to know.
Now, I do.
I want to know that Kobe tried to be a better person. I want to know that he learned a lesson about consent. I want to know that he tried to make things right after the fact. I want to know that he grew from that and became a better man because of it.
I want to know that the redemption so many are seeking for him posthumously is something that he had already carved out for himself while he was still living.
It was his greatest effort, and even without saying it, that’s why so many people love him so much. Kobe was a hero.
This makes my grieving make sense. It’s the parts we don’t want to talk about. It’s the parts we should be talking about.
I still don’t want to see microphones shoved in the faces of people who loved him, but I understand it.
I understand that speaking on the allegations may make some people uncomfortable, and there is a reason for that, which may lie completely outside of Kobe himself. We often run away from self-analysis, and it is when looking at the mistakes of others that we feel the need to flee most strongly. Looking at Kobe on the whole means looking at ourselves and understanding that just as we are not perfect, neither was he.
Kobe took his flaws and used them to make himself greater. That is the greatest testament to who he was as a man and a human being.
I can sit with that and grieve him and know that he was still living his life to the fullest, especially in those last moments as he shuttled the daughter who was following in his footsteps and her teammates to their game via helicopter.
He was being the best Mamba he could be.
He will be missed.