It is the fork in the road for the public perception of Kobe Bryant.
Back in 2003 he was charged with sexual assault of a hotel employee in Eagle, Colorado (where he had been for knee surgery). Kobe admitted infidelity in his marriage but denied this was a sexual assault. Eventually the charges were dismissed (it never went to full trial).
Irrespective of the court result, this changed how many people thought of Kobe and colors his image to this day. He lost numerous endorsements. It changed how he and Nike marketed the Kobe brand — he stared in a “hate me but respect my game” series of ads with Nike and publicly embraced the driven side of his personality in a way he had not before. He was fine with being everyone’s villan (outside of Los Angeles, where he was always largely supported).
His popularity eventually came around as people did respect his game, and after a couple of titles without Shaquille O’Neal Kobe is now the biggest international star the NBA has. His fame transcends basketball. He is an icon of the sport, regardless of what people think of him.
The Colorado experience changed Kobe as a person, too.
Kobe doesn’t often speak of those times but he did in a fantastic interview on Yahoo with Graham Bensinger, part of the In Depth series. (We will have other parts of the interview later today, but go check it out.)
“The challenge is who you are as a person, not only individually but as a family….” Bryant said. “There’s times where it just seems like days are just endless, like this is never going to end. This feeling, this dark time is just never going to be over. Once you go through something like that, you can’t help but be different. You can’t help but have a better sense of who you are.”
What were the lessons?
“As a person it just really teaches you how to let go and how to trust and not try to control everything. And that decreases your stress level ten-fold,” Kobe said.
Through it all, Bryant kept playing, flying back to Los Angeles just before game time and performing well for the Lakers. There were calls in some quarters for Kobe to stop playing but he said he needed that escape.
“I’m not going to stop playing,” Kobe said. “I’m not just because you guys think I should stop playing, just because you guys think that I won’t perform as well. I’m going to show you. Truthfully, it was stress release for me.”
Kobe said he has spoken with Ray Lewis, the superstar NFL linebacker who faced murder charges (which were dismissed).
“Other players can’t relate to that sort of stuff, to that type of pressure,” Bryant said. “That’s real pressure. That’s life pressure. It’s not hitting the game winning shot. If you make it, you win. If you miss it – no. That’s not pressure.”