In July 2013, the most important items on Kobe Bryant’s “to-do” list are fully recovering from a season-ending Achilles heel injury and ensuring Dwight Howard returns to Los Angeles next season. That’s quite the contrast from where he found himself this time exactly 10 years ago. Mark Trible and Justin Tinsley examine the darkest phase of Kobe’s career — his rape case, which ignited conversations about America’s rape laws and the impact it had on his career moving forward.
Tinsley: Ten years ago, around July 2003 to be exact, life for me then was in some ways the same as it is now. Sports and music were vices my life revolved around. 50 Cent was the biggest rap artist in the world thanks to “Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.” Dipset’s “Diplomatic Immunity 1″ was the way of life for a Central Virginia 17-year-old kid preparing for his last year of high school. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade were the new NBA kids on the block and the heirs to league’s throne. T.I.’s “Trap Muzik” was the most anticipated album of the summer thanks in part to the chant-worthy classic, “24’s.”
And in a one trip to Colorado, Kobe Bryant literally became Public Enemy #1.
Even then, Kobe was unable to escape the label of “Shaq’s sidekick” and a kid whose talent was always overshadowed by immature tendencies, right or wrong. In some ways, and this could be revisionist history, it was almost as if some people I came in contact with then yearned for Bryant to be guilty based off grudges they had with his game.
Traveling down this road, we’re kind of opening Pandora’s Box. It’s a topic and time we all remember but is rarely discussed anymore. Maybe we’ve moved on, or maybe we’re unearthing dark memories from a time period when one of the league’s brightest stars had his career and freedom hang in the balance. Mark, any memories from you during that time?
Trible: My CD player also had the blue and red discs interchanged for each ride. At 16 in Northern VA, I remember people assuming Kobe was guilty before proven innocent.
I guess that’s the way it tends to go when celebrities or athletes brush with the law. But, who was Kobe? Like you said, he was Shaq’s sidekick. He also seemed to be the self-proclaimed heir apparent to Michael Jordan.
He worshiped and idolized Jordan like my friends and I did. So why was he any different from us? Was it that he braved the new world of obvious ego-driven “swagger”?
The thing I’ll remember most about that incident was very few people took Kobe’s side when accusations were made. I think he came off unlikable — and still does to some — and he didn’t yet have the résumé to overcome that. While Allen Iverson had endearing qualities of heart and smaller stature, Kobe appeared to have neither.
Anyone I remember really pulling for the guy only did so because they loved the big fella in the middle. They reluctantly cheered for the guy who rode those giant coattails.
Perhaps I was still stung by the series with my then beloved Sacramento Kings. My new jersey for the year was certainly purple. But it had the number four on it, and it read “WEBBER” on the back.
Why would I side with Kobe?