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Uncomfortable truth about Kobe doesn’t negate his legacy

“The outpouring of grief and adulation of this ‘role model’ is sickening,” the reader wrote, along with a whole pile of assumptions that people can make behind the safety of generic email accounts.

For the record, The Age/Sydney Morning Herald story made reference to the rape accusation — something many publications have neglected to do — but did not focus on it.

To revisit the matter at length, dragging out all the sordid details, just hours after Bryant and his daughter had been killed would have been inappropriate and insensitive.

The Washington Post suspended national political reporter Felicia Sonmez for tweeting a 2016 Daily Beast story about the allegations soon after news broke of Bryant’s death. That kind of censorship is concerning but it highlighted the trickiness in reporting death, even if it’s a retweet.

Believe me, I felt an uneasiness writing about Bryant earlier this week, and it’s stayed with me as tributes have flowed from Oprah to Ellen to Shaq to LeBron, who had spoken to Bryant hours before his death after passing him on the NBA’s all-time list of point-scorers the night before.

Bryant’s athletic ability, his influence on the game, his devotion to his family, his service to charities — none of that can be disputed.

LA Lakers fans flocked to Staples Centre to mourn the loss of their former star.

LA Lakers fans flocked to Staples Centre to mourn the loss of their former star.Credit:AP

But what also can’t be questioned is that somewhere in the world there is a woman who was involved in an incident with Bryant that left her with bruises on her neck, consistent with her claims she was choked, and centimetre-long tears of her genitals, consistent with her claim she was raped.

After denying he had sex with the woman, Bryant changed his version of events when semen and blood tests revealed that he had. The criminal trial was tossed out when the woman refused to testify after weeks of intense scrutiny from his defence lawyers and the media.

Bryant didn’t consider it a victory, instead making a telling admission with his statement.

“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,” he said.

What’s dangerous, though, is a culture in which people are certain they know the truth about incidents as serious as this one when they do not.

Then, in 2005, he settled a civil suit with the woman for an undisclosed amount rumoured to be $2.5 million.

People will make up their own mind about what happened in that Colorado hotel room 17 years ago, even though only two actually know. And now one of those is dead.

Bryant’s legion of supporters argue the matter is irrelevant and it’s outrageous to even mention it right now because the charges were dismissed. Doubtless, the reader who fired off the late-night missive will have an alternative opinion. Others share his view.

No, celebrity does not “trump everything”. No, being a good basketballer doesn’t make you “exempt from morality”.

What’s dangerous, though, is a culture in which people are certain they know the truth about incidents as serious as this one when they do not.

Sportspeople are as complex as the rest of us, perhaps more so because they live inside a dome of celebrity, fortune and having high-tops named in their honour.

We expect perfection on the court, and perfection off it. I’m guilty of it, too. I cling to Ash Barty as my new sporting hero because she’s talented and doesn’t carry herself with the sense of entitlement shown by most athletes I deal with these days.

Bryant evolved, softened, grew up and became a doting father. He reconciled with his wife Vanessa. He became an astute businessman and had promoters, like those who brought him to Melbourne last year, paying top dollar to have him speak.


He also finished his career as one of the greatest athletes of all-time, with an arsenal of dunks, fadeaway shots and clutch plays that meant even those with a passing interest in sport knew who he was.

None of that goes away because of a disputed incident from 17 years ago.

Soon after news broke of Bryant’s death, well-known Sydney public relations consultant Tristan Hay sent me an unseen video from Bryant’s short time here last year for his “Mamba Mentality Experience”.

They were shooting some short interviews to be shown at the event. As Hay was setting up, a picture flashed up on his laptop.

“Oh my god, are they your kids?” Bryant asked. “Can they be any damn cuter?”

Hay explained how the children looked like their mum.

“You got lucky, huh?” Bryant said. “Me too.”

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