A Mother Reflects on Kobe Bryant’s Complex Legacy and Tragic Death

I am conflicted about Kobe Bryant’s complex legacy and tragic death.  

Bryant was a basketball legend and one of the greatest players of all time who tragically died on January 26, 2020. A legend, and a giant among giants. He inspired a vast number of people during his long and illustrious career. He won five NBA championships. He was an 18-time All-Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, 12-time member of the All-Defensive Team, and the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP). He won two Olympic gold medals playing with the U.S. National Team. Up until January 25th, 2020, Bryant was the all-time highest scorer for the L.A. Lakers. There’s no questioning Bryant’s profound genius on the basketball court, and he will always be remembered as one of the greatest players to ever grace the court. 

empty basketball court memorializing kobe bryant's legacyBryant was a family man through and through.

He was married for twenty years, nearly half of his too-brief life, and he and his wife, Vanessa had four daughters. Together, they were community-minded and devoted to philanthropy. He was known to be a staunchly involved father whose loyalty to his daughters and wife was unwavering. His tragic and untimely death was shocking, and to add to the horror of the accident that took his life, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other passengers were on the helicopter flight that crashed with him. The loss is unfathomable. 

Still, as an adult woman and a mom who was alive in 2003, I can not help but associate Kobe Bryant with another incident. 2003 was the year Bryant was brought to court and tried for sexual assault.

He was charged with one count of felony assault, and later, a civil case was settled out of court in 2005. The case against Bryant was not clear cut; Bryant claimed that he had consensual sex with the accuser, and the accuser claimed that she was raped by Bryant. 

Whether or not you believe the accuser’s claims, or Bryant’s claims, or the court’s decisions, the trial and reporting around the case certainly left a stain on Bryant’s career. The case was heartbreaking and confusing to many of Bryant’s fans as graphic and disturbing details were shared with the press. 

So, here I am- heavy with grief for Vanessa Bryant, Kobe Bryant’s wife, and Gianna Bryant’s mother, and for the three siblings who will forever miss their sister and father.

Every mother I know shares some measure of heartbreak imagining the absolute horror and pain that Vanessa Bryant must feel. Mothers unite in emotional solidarity around our sister and imagine the pain of a wife who has lost her not just her life partner but also her precious daughter. Vanessa Bryant faces a nightmarish loss and deserves nothing but love, support, compassion, and understanding. I hope that she finds the strength and determination to grieve, and to continue to be a pillar of strength for her children and family. I hope she has support and love around her in every moment and that her bereaved daughters are loved and uplifted by all so that they may know their father’s legacy and magnificence throughout their lives. My heart breaks for those poor girls because they are so young and so innocent and this loss will inevitably reverberate and be felt throughout their lives. 

Yet I also remember the 19-year-old woman who accused Bryant of rape, and I feel an internal conflict about my grief and how to memorialize a human man who was fallible and flawed. Kobe Bryant’s complex legacy haunts me. 

Make no mistake about it, Kobe Bryant was exhibited profound talent and skill in his career and also was a dedicated family man who gave back to his community generously. And there is no question that a crime occurred between Bryant and a 19-year-old hotel employee in 2003. How is anyone supposed to live with these dramatically oppositional personas? Do we ignore the history of assault, or do we ignore years and years of charity work and a history of giving?

I am not here to judge or speak poorly of anyone.

I have no answer to this mental and emotional conflict I feel with regard to Kobe Bryant’s complex legacy. 

I am sharing my thoughts, and internal conflict because I know I can’t be the only person who remembers this one dark period in Bryant’s tremendous legacy

Fortunately, I can live with opposition. Life is never simple. I can honor George Washington’s historical place while also recoiling from his participation in and benefit from slavery. I don’t need to name current examples of this schism. But I can see each person as a sum of the life they live, their beliefs, and their actions, and this sum can be complex. 

Above all else, Kobe Bryant was a man; human and weak, with glorious highs that were celebrated by the world, and one tremendous, reverberating low that blossomed into a stain on his legacy. 

dark basketball court memorializing Kobe Bryant's legacy and deathWhen remembering and elegizing anyone, we are confronted by their humanness: the sum of their strengths and weaknesses, as a cohesive legacy. Kobe Bryant was a man like any other, and also a hero among men; gone too soon, and leaving behind a forever-changed sport, a complicated story, and a grieving family and nation. 

A Mother Reflects on Kobe Bryant's Complex Legacy and Tragic Death

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