Kobe Bryant’s death has, naturally, sparked discussion of his legacy.
The fairest way to assess people’s legacy is examining the totality of their lives. For Bryant, that includes his basketball greatness with the Lakers, his influence around the world and, yes, that infamous situation in Colorado.
In 2003, Bryant was accused of rape. He was charged with sexual assault, but – with the accuser refusing to testify – the charges were dropped. A civil case was settled. In a statement, Bryant acknowledged that he had sex with the woman and that she didn’t view it as consensual.
Bryant tried to repair his image over the ensuing years and was largely successful. He died beloved in most corners. Some of that redemption was marketing. Some of it appeared to be genuine growth. In particular, Bryant – the father of four daughters, including basketball-loving Gianna, who also died in the helicopter crash – became a champion of women’s basketball.
That’s why Gayle King interviewed WNBA great Lisa Leslie about Bryant. CBS published an excerpt of the segment:
The video included this exchange:
- King: “It’s been said that his legacy is complicated because of a sexual-assault charge, which was dismissed in 2003, 2004. Is it complicated for you as a woman, as a WNBA player?”
- Leslie: “It’s not complicated for me at all. Even if there’s a few times that we’ve been at a club at the same time, Kobe’s not the kind of guy — never been, like, you know, “Lisa, go get that girl” or “Tell her” or “Send her this.” I have other NBA friends that are like that. Kobe, he was never like that. I just never, have ever seen him being the kind of person that would do something to violate a woman or be aggressive in that way. That’s just not the person that I know.”
- King: “But Lisa, you wouldn’t see it, though. As his friend, you wouldn’t see it.”
- Leslie: “And that’s possible. I just don’t believe that. And I’m not saying things didn’t happen. I just don’t believe that things didn’t happen with force.”
- King: “It it even a fair question to talk about it, consider he’s no longer with us and that it was resolved? Or is it really part of his history?”
- Leslie: “I think that the media should be more respectful at this time. If you had questions about it, you’ve had many years to ask him that. I don’t think it’s something that we should keep hanging over his legacy. I mean, it went to trial.”
- King: “Yeah, the case, it was dismissed because of the victim in the case refused to testify. So, it was dismissed.”
- Leslie: “And I think that that’s how we should leave it.”
King has faced significant backlash for her line of questioning, most prominently from Snoop Dogg and Bill Cosby.
On Instagram, King defended herself:
I’ve been up reading the comments about the interview I did with Lisa Leslie about Kobe Bryant. And I know that if I had only seen the clip that you saw, I’d be extremely angry with me, too. I am mortified. I am embarrassed. And I am very angry. Unbeknownst to me, my network put up a clip from a very wide-ranging interview, totally taken out of context, and when you see it that way, it’s very jarring. It’s jarring to me. I didn’t even know anything about it. I started getting calls: “What the hell are you doing? Why did you say this? What is happening?” I did not know what people were talking about. So, I’ve been told or I’ve been advised to say nothing, just let it go. “People will drag you. People will troll you. It will be over in a couple of days.” But that’s not good enough for me, because I really want people to understand what happened here and how I’m feeling about it.
It’s a shame King is facing such a vile response. Her questions were completely legitimate. Leslie, a prominent women’s basketball player and friend of Bryant, had a compelling perspective on that part of Bryant’s life. Journalistically, King absolutely should have asked about it.
I have respect for how Leslie answered the questions, too – specifically acknowledging that she might have a blind spot because of her friendship with Bryant. It’s so important to recognize our own biases and confront them. Nobody is trying to tarnish her friendship with Bryant. She can set the terms on that relationship.
As someone not close to Bryant, I can more easily point out that Leslie wasn’t in that hotel room with Bryant and the accuser. I think it’s unfair for Leslie to say she believes there was no “force.” Just because she had different experiences with Bryant doesn’t mean she knows what happened that day.
I also understand why Leslie holds her point of view. It’s similar to why so many are attacking King. These discussions aren’t pleasant, and Bryant has drawn loyalty.
This situation carries specific complexities.
As a society, we have become more attuned to crimes against women. Still a long way to go. But a lot of progress, specifically in the last few years.
That makes it complicated to consider prior situations, like Bryant’s. Should we revisit with contemporary standards? Should we leave it in the past, a sad outcome of the times? There are not easy answers.
Likewise, people tend not to speak ill of someone who recently died. But how long does that last? Nobody is forcing anyone to discuss this aspect of Bryant’s life. But if you want to talk about Bryant’s whole legacy, the Colorado situation must be included. So should all the good Bryant did in his life. No single moment defines him.
Also, there is a troubling history in this country of false accusations against black men. Harvey Weinstein, who has been frequently invoked by King’s critics, has long received too much support from his rich and famous friends. That context matters, too.
But you can rail against injustice without admonishing King for asking completely reasonable questions.