Monday, January 27, 2020

On a Terrible Tragedy and the Death of Kobe Bryant

Ever since early Sunday afternoon, when I learned of the California helicopter crash that took the life of retired Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant--and as now known but not initially, eight more people including his daughter Gianna and two other 13-year-old girls--I've been thinking about how I've been thinking.

It is still, and will likely always be, somewhat complicated, and while I felt compelled to write something--in large part to work through my thoughts--I'm dubious if this will be coherent. It'll probably be more stream of consciousness.

What I hope it isn't is judgmental or preachy. It's not for me to tell anyone else how to think, especially as I imagine many are experiencing some mental complexity.

With what I now know, the news is unequivocally tragic, horrific and tremendously sad.

I am far sadder about the deaths of Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester--the three young girls who had their futures stolen by wicked fate--plus the five other victims in addition to Kobe, than I am strictly about his passing.

That nine people perished is much more tragic than the loss of a transcendent basketball superstar, even if he was a hero to many.

But the focus of much news coverage, and anguish, is understandably on the shocking death of Kobe Bryant at 41.

Gianna Bryant
Which would be sad in any event, but all the more so in being inextricably linked to the loss of his daughter--he is survived by three more daughters, along with his wife Vanessa--and seven others, including Kobe's longstanding helicopter pilot, Ara Zobayan.

Yet when the news first hit, while clear that Kobe didn't die alone, there was some speculation about who was with him in the helicopter, but without any specificity that I saw.

So at least for awhile, my thoughts went fairly solely to him.

I believe Kobe Bryant to be one of the five greatest basketball players to play during my lifetime--along with Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, with due deference also to Julius Erving and others--and he could often be astonishing, even magical, to watch.

Yet I was never really a fan.

Especially early in his NBA career, straight out of high school, he seemed to be something of an arrogant competitor, trying a bit too hard to copy my hero, MJ.

When he won his first three NBA titles with the Lakers, in 2000, 2001 and 2002, he seemed to gripe too much about having to share the ball and spotlight with Shaq.

And of far greater consequence, in 2003--while already married to Vanessa--he was accused by a 19-year-old woman of raping her in his room at a Colorado hotel where she worked.

Bryant admitted to a sexual encounter with his accuser but denied the assault allegation.

Facing harsh scrutiny--and this was before the days of social media--the young woman refused to testify and the case was dropped.

On the same day the criminal case was dismissed, Kobe issued a statement through his attorney that in part said:
"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."
A civil suit was later filed against Bryant by the woman, which was settled out of court and included Bryant publicly apologizing to his accuser, though admitting no guilt. Per Wikipedia, the Los Angeles Times reported that legal experts estimated the settlement was more than $2.5 million.

There were also stories about Kobe giving Vanessa a $4 million ring to help save their marriage.

You can believe what you wish, but I think it highly likely that Kobe Bryant raped a young woman and got away without punishment, save a bit of money, which was almost nothing next to the $328 million he earned from the Lakers across his career, plus lucrative endorsement income.

And without suggesting I've heard any other specific intimations, I don't think it impossible that Kobe Bryant engaged in other ugly episodes with women. It seems a bit unlikely he decided to be predatory solely on the night before he was to have surgery in Colorado.

Without implying that I'm perfect or above being judged, I've held the purported rape against Kobe in my ensuing perceptions of him, which weren't all positive previously.

Does this mean he deserved to die? No.

Does this mean his survivor has now gotten justice? No.

Does this mean I don't ache for what Vanessa and all the other loved ones of all the victims must be going through? No.

Does this mean that I'm not absolutely horrified to think what everyone aboard the helicopter, including Kobe, must've been going through in its last moments? By all means, no.

But does Kobe's known "crime," and some other factors--including my not being a Laker booster, even as I enjoyed seeing Phil Jackson's title tally rise--mean that, divorcing the entire 9-fatality tragedy that took his life, I'm not as devastated by his death as I have been by those of Stevie Ray Vaughan (also in a helicopter crash), Kurt Cobain, Walter Payton, David Bowie, Prince, Tom Petty and some others?

A photo I took of Kobe on Feb. 15, 2000 at Chicago's United Center

But these are just my thoughts, still a bit raw, still a bit shocked.

And even if my perceptions of Kobe's misdeeds are absolutely true, I understand what his on-the-court greatness--and the five titles he helped the Lakers win--have meant to fans who, perhaps, don't believe he raped someone. Or don't want to know. Or believe he paid the court-ordered punishments. Or maybe don't even care.

As I said at top, it's complex.

But still a tragedy.

If as much due to the death of Christina Mauser--and others--as that of Kobe Bryant.

Or even more so. 

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