Loving Kobe Bryant: a complicated affair

ON December 18, 2017, retired NBA All Star Kobe Bryant was honoured by the team he spent twenty years hustling for, the Los Angeles Lakers, with the retirement of not one, but both of his jersey numbers. The infamous 8 & 24.

 

The NBA themed the week leading up to Monday night’s game between the Lakers and the Golden State Warriors as ‘Kobe week’. Fans around the downtown Staples Centre precinct in LA were treated to a Bryant themed amusement park set up outside the stadium titled ‘Kobe Land’. There was no expense spared to honour this man, who honoured the city of L.A. for two decades.

 

I am in love with Kobe Bryant. Only in a ‘sports fan’ way but perhaps that is somewhat more dangerous than what a romantic relationship implies. You love your sporting heroes no matter what. Even if they break your heart you don’t let go. Sport is about loyalty.

 

I never played basketball. I was never a fan in the stands at Laker games and I barely get to watch them play on TV due to the time zone differences here in Australia. But there was something about Kobe that brought me into the game when my basketball-crazy-brother made me pick a team to support when I was a young girl.

 

He turned the game into theatre for me. And I loved theatre.

 

I was too young to grow up with Michael Jordan however I understood his greatness and accepted that he was the best, but I didn’t really get to see his magic happen (not counting his epic comeback against the Monstars in Space Jam).

 

I saw Kobe.

 

Before Kobe I didn’t understand basketball. I thought NBA players were fur-coat-wearing, diamond-chain-rocking celebrities who played a game that was kind of boring with all the timeouts and fouls stopping the clock.

 

But then I saw Kobe and I fell in love.

 

His game told a story and I wanted to know it desperately. Always wanting to flip the pages as fast as I could to see what could possible be next.

 

So I watched the tale unfold.

 

For twenty years.

 

And I saw:

 

5× NBA champion (2000–2002, 2009, 2010)

2× NBA Finals MVP (2009, 2010)

NBA Most Valuable Player (2008)

18× NBA All-Star (1998, 2000–2016)

4× NBA All-Star Game MVP (2002, 2007, 2009, 2011)

11× All-NBA First Team (2002–2004, 2006–2013)

2× All-NBA Second Team (2000, 2001)

2× All-NBA Third Team (1999, 2005)

9× NBA All-Defensive First Team (2000, 2003, 2004, 2006–2011)

3× NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2001, 2002, 2012)

2× NBA scoring champion (2006, 2007)

 

Kobe’s story had everything all great sporting stories have. Determination to win, to prove yourself, to overcome obstacles, to not only succeed but accomplish what was thought impossible and to continue to do it over and over again. It was a fairy tale. A tale of a warrior. A God.

 

But love has is complications and I can’t ever overlook the dark shadow on Bryant’s career.

 

His was accused of sexual assault in 2003.

 

The case was settled outside of court and he was never charged, leaving his story, on paper at least, an unblemished legend.

 

At half-time on Monday night, after both Bryant’s Jerseys had been unveiled among the rest of the Lakers retired numbers – alongside names such as Chamberlain, Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar, he earnestly thanked his family. His wife Vanessa and three daughters Natalia, Gianna and recently born baby Bianka. I looked at them standing there on the sidelines looking at their father with love. This man is surrounded by women.

 

He told his girls to work hard, every day and thrive in the journey and I know he’s helping them to do that.

 

Social media videos of him in the gym playing one-one-one with 11-year-old Gianna are all over the internet and if she keeps working like her dad she’s going to be unstoppable in the WNBA. He seems to be the perfect husband, a loving and doting father, a loyal athlete (Lakers owner Jeanie Buss teared up in her speech when she thanked him for not leaving the Purple and Gold) but there’s more to his story that I need to force myself not to forget.

 

While he was never charged and we’ll never really know what happened in that hotel room, if we’ve learned anything from the #metoo movement this year it is to not instantly dismiss women’s voices and not to make excuses for our heroes.

 

I will always love Kobe. I will wear his jersey. I will watch his highlights on DVD. I will remember with fondness the 3 championships he won in a row but the one in 2010 will be my favourite as I often reminisce how I cheekily called in sick to work several times to watch the games live at home. I will always tear up re- reading his retirement letter ‘Dear Basketball, one of the most poetic things I’ve ever read.

 

But I won’t forget that there’s something else to his story that is complicated and uncomfortable. I won’t forget that while I sit on my couch tearing up with pride while his numbers are revealed tonight, there might be one woman sitting at home who is tearing up for a different reason.

About Kasey Symons

Kasey Symons is the Women's Football Editor here at The Footy Almanac. She is also a PhD Candidate at Victoria University where her research is focused on gendered issues in sports cultures (primarily AFL) at a fan level. Kasey is a born and raised Victorian who barracks for the West Coast Eagles and yes, she knows that is weird.

Comments

  1. Kasey, this an excellent piece, written from a fan’s perspective – but not the one-eyed, blinkered fan. Supporting a team – and/or an individual – can indeed be complicated.
    Yes, Kobe is truly one of the NBA’s greats. 5 championships is huge – interesting, however, that he was league MVP only once.
    I recall the reporting of the off-court incident which you mention, and remember being surprised: Kobe was a superstar and seemingly happily married. But these days, sadly, I am not surprised by anything I hear.

  2. Kasey Symons says:

    Thanks very much Smokie – I’ve been a one-eyed fan for a long time, always putting my head in the sand when my heroes play up so I’m finally trying to force myself see the bigger picture. Well, sort of, I’m still trying to come to terms with Ben Cousins…

  3. Dave Brown says:

    Nice piece, Kasey! The cricket team I coached last year (in suburban Adelaide) had four Kobes in it (born in 2008 and 2009) – his influence is clearly widespread. It will be interesting to see how #metoo plays out. I think we will be forced to reconsider the place of a number of men we idolised as kids and possibly named our kids after. I’m not sure how to balance it all out, if it is even possible.

  4. Kasey Symons says:

    Thanks Dave, yeah that’s amazing isn’t it? I wonder how many little Dusty’s will be running around Auskick clinics in the next few years after his incredible season but despite #chopstick gate? And I agree, I don’t know if it is possible to balance all this stuff out but I know I can’t stop admiring what these athletes can do on the field.

  5. Hi Kasey, I enjoyed that. Like anything, the closer you get to it, the more you realise its intricacies and complications. I didn’t ‘know’ basketball until I was drawn into it (to play and watch) by friends – during the height of basketball in Brisbane in the late ’80s. Some, like Bill Ellis, are involved in the Almanac. John Origlasso introduced me to some fine basketball writing. 30-30 has added to the appreciation. Thanks for the piece.

  6. Yvette Wroby says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful piece. Keep writing!

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