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Remembering an NBA legend


THE world of sports and beyond is still mourning the premature deaths of basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his rising basketball star daughter Gianna (13) on January 26.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has produced some of the entertainment and sporting world’s most globally recognised celebrities. Bryant stands in that pantheon of legends alongside Irvin “Magic” Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Lebron James.

Kobe Bryant pop culture

Bryant occupied the space that Michael Jordan vacated when he finally exited the world-famous NBA league. Much as he was a sports personality, Bryant was also very much a pop culture phenomenon and triggered many shoutouts from hip-hop music stars in their songs with the likes of Lil Wayne, Drake, The Game and others comparing their rapping prowess with Kobe’s prowess on the basketball court in his illustrious career, perhaps only marred by allegations of sexual assault by a then 19-year-old female. Hip-hop and basketball have always fed into each other. Shaquille O’neal even released some hip-hop tracks. The two fields have been dominated by men and women of black origin and the relationship between them is symbiotic. Thus, Bryant was as admired by the likes of Kanye West and Jay Z as he most likely admired them.

Music and sport synergy

Music and sport have ever been some of the ways via which especially young black males from America’s inner cities escape the gridlock of poverty and jail. Bryant is a titan amongst a glittering array of globally-recognised icons who straddle the worlds of showbiz and sports. His death has elicited emotional reactions from fellow superstars from Ronaldo to Novak Djokovic and ordinary people. The outpouring of public grief paints a dizzying picture of a man whose quest for excellence was inspired by another sports and entertainment great in Michael Jordan and continues to inspire many across the socio-cultural divide.

Business tycoon

Bryant established Kobe Inc. to own and develop brands in the sports industry, starting off with a 10% stake in the Body Armor Super Drink Company for which he paid US$6 million in March 2014. In 2016, he set up Bryant-Stibel, a venture capital firm with Jeff Stibel, that explores businesses in tech, data, gaming, and media. Other investments involve a minority stake in Coca-Cola Company in 2018. The stock’s value rose to US$200 million.

Hollywood connection

Bryant’s interest in entertainment saw him become the first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2018 for his film Dear Basketball. He is also the first former pro athlete to be nominated and to win an Academy Award in any category for his film. He also wrote and published a book The Mamba Mentality: How I Play. The book is published by MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux (the same one which published the late Zimbabwe literary great Yvonne Vera’s works).Bryant is a five-time NBA champion (2000-2002, 2009, 2010) and is survived by his wife Vanessa and three other daughters.

Momentary lapse of reason?

In 2003, a then 24-year-old Kobe Bryant was charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a resort hotel the basketball star had visited. He was charged with sexual assault, equivalent to rape in American law.

Bryant pleaded his innocence, saying words to the effect that he was innocent and did not do anything against the woman’s will. Prosecutors later dropped the case before trial, citing the accuser’s unwillingness to testify. The woman would later file a lawsuit against Bryant which ended in a settlement and the particulars have never been revealed.

Narrow escape

With a lot riding on him, Bryant had a hit squad of lawyers who deployed tactics which in my view may not have been illegal but a tad unethical. Usually the identity of a rape accuser is concealed to protect them from further humiliation and embarrassment. This was not the case and one can imagine just how much hounding the woman experienced at the hands of paparazzi and even die-hard Bryant fans. In the muddied socio-cultural environment of America with its race politics, Bryant was a successful black man who was being attacked by a racist system. On the other hand, Bryant may have been just another superstar who grabbed the opportunity to plunder a “groupie”. Celebrity is dehumanising for both celeb and fan. They are grist for a rapacious system which builds up and tears down. It is an ecosystem of predation. The mass media and the broadcast networks which powers the system, need constant titillation. Big celebrity scandals are the very fuel of it all.

Parting shot

The legacy of Bryant is the legacy, in some ways, of Mike Tyson; sporting excellence and brushes with the law. It is also the legacy of Tiger Woods in the aspect of his public humiliation. Tiger was never accused of rape but he was “accused” of sleeping with several women! My exclamation mark is an indication of the incredulity with which the issue now reads. He was not the first successful man, black or white, to run a harem of beauties.

Conspiracy theorists would hazard that Tiger’s troubles off the field of play were because of both his stupendous success on the field as well as daring to tango with Caucasian women. Such is the world we live in, a black child is still an endangered species, endangered and also endangering… In the end, however, the world is richer for having black children and don’t you dare allow our political leadership’s ways across the mother continent make you think otherwise. We shall overcome.

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