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Memorial to Kobe Bryant

Kobe Byant's Shadow

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By Brian Hurwitz

Kobe Bryant will long be remembered as many things. A loving father. A devoted husband. A cherished friend. An Oscar winner. And one of the greatest basketball players to ever set foot on the court. The sole blemish on his remarkable life was a charge of sexual assault leveled against him nearly 20 years ago. That charge was subsequently dismissed in 2004 and, in the years that followed, has rarely been mentioned since. With the overwhelming outpouring of grief and heartache expressed by colleagues, friends and fans in the aftermath of his passing, it was unavoidable that this blemish reemerges in the public consciousness. Does it tarnish Bryant's legacy, or merely the motives of anyone who asks such a question.

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Gayle King
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During an interview with basketball star Lisa Leslie, Gayle King questioned whether or not Leslie felt the allegation "complicated" Bryant's legacy. Without hesitation, Leslie defended her departed friend and made it clear she did not believe he was either guilty of that charge nor would his memory be damaged as a result of it. In the wake of the interview, King received death threats and unmitigated criticism. Although others jumped to her defense, King quickly apologized and voiced regret that she had not conducted the interview with more sensitivity.


Vanessa and Kobe Bryant
Gettyimages | Stefanie Keenan

Whether or not the allegation against Bryant will tarnish his legacy remains to be seen, but there is no question the circumstances of his death are tragic. Most ostensibly, Bryant's widow Vanessa lost her husband and daughter and her three surviving daughters lost their father and sister. At the same time, the woman who brought the charge against Bryant has had to deal with the painful memory of the incident every day for the past 17 years. And while the case was dismissed, that solely came to pass due to her unwillingness to testify in court and be subjected to an even greater degree of legal scrutiny and public vitriol than she had already experienced.


Kobe Bryant
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The charge does not change the fact that Bryant was unarguably one of the best players of his generation. It does not take away his five NBA championships, two NBA finals MVP awards, his league MVP award, his 18 All-Star game appearances, his two Olympic gold medals or his Academy Award for Best Animated Short. The Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Foundation's goal of helping at-risk youth is no less admirable. And his efforts to promote women's basketball is no less important.


Giphy | NBA

By all accounts, the allegation leveled against Bryant in 2003 was an isolated incident. In the years that followed he became a basketball legend and a community pillar against whom future generations will invariably be compared. But none of that means that blemish should be ignored. No doubt there is a time and place for everything. Those who chose to inject Bryant's blemish into the conversations surrounding his death did so for a variety of reasons. And by all outward appearances, none were motivated by anything less genuine than the sentiments expressed by the legions who mourn him.

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