Kobe Bryant’s Best Days Were Still Ahead of Him (Column)

I was strolling around my local flea market Sunday morning when I looked down at my phone and read the horrible news: “Kobe Bryant Dies in Helicopter Crash.” I let out an audible gasp. Of course, my utter shock instantly morphed into journalistic concerns over how we were going to cover this unfathomable news.

I have to be honest about the mixed feelings I had for the basketball legend ever since he was arrested in 2003 for allegedly raping a 19-year-old woman working in the Colorado hotel where he was staying. But, still, his tragic death struck me hard — particularly on a personal level. As the mother of two girls, the thought that Bryant died alongside his 13-year-old daughter, and knowing the pain and suffering that his remaining three daughters, Natalia, Bianka and Capri, and wife, Vanessa, must endure, is simply incomprehensible. Years ago, my brother and I also lost a sibling and my parents a daughter. The trauma remains, as do haunting thoughts about what might have been had my 24-year-old sister not lost her life to the leukemia that robbed her of a future. The same can be said for Bryant’s daughter, who was being mentored by her father to someday follow in his footsteps as a professional basketball player.

And, I would really like to believe that in the years following the sexual assault case, which Bryant publicly apologized for but never conceded was nonconsensual, he had grown as a human being. There’s been much discussion of the controversial issue on social media, with many believing he had.

“This guy evolved in a big way when his 30s rolled around, and he was humbled by what happened in Colorado,” says my colleague, co-editor Andy Wallenstein. “He needed to be more humane and become a more well-rounded person,” adds Wallenstein, who had interviewed Bryant right before he won an Oscar for his 2017 short “Dear Basketball,” based on a poem he wrote. Wallenstein also credits Bryant with tapping his own humility and curiosity to carve out a distinct path for himself rather than pursuing coaching, management or a career in the broadcast booth.

“He wanted to rediscover who he was with creative and business pursuits and who he was as a parent,” says Wallenstein. “I respect him for that.”

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