The Vindication of Kobe Bryant
He was once one of the most reviled athletes in the entire country. Accused of rape and severely criticized by former teammates, especially Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant faced obstacles and challenges that would have forced many to give in and give up.
However, the perseverance that Bryant has shown by rebuilding his image and his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, has transformed him into a champion on the court and in life as well. The Lakers recently captured their 15th NBA championship and fourth with Kobe Bryant as its star shooting guard. Although he may not admit it, Bryant’s first championship without O’Neal has to be especially gratifying because of the perseverance needed to prove all of the doubters and haters wrong in the process.
“It’s so tough to win a championship, to have to start over from scratch,” said Bryant. “We started over from scratch. Here we are again, and it really feels like a dream.”
The dream career that Bryant enjoyed early in his NBA tenure, however, turned into a nightmare when he was accused of raping an employee at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera in Eagle County, Colo. on June 20, 2003. The following season, Bryant showed great perseverance on the basketball court, playing some of his best basketball while dealing with the rape charges, leading the Lakers to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the 2004 NBA champion Detroit Pistons.
Despite the somewhat successful season, the Lakers’ dynasty was dismantled, culminating in the trade of O’Neal to the Miami Heat, where he won his fourth championship ring in 2006 with help from superstar Dwayne Wade. During his tenure with the Lakers and after becoming a member of the Heat, O’Neal criticized Bryant for being a poor teammate, a sentiment that was echoed by some throughout the NBA, even by Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
The bad PR that Bryant received after the rape allegation and the rebuilding of the Lakers forced Bryant to rebuild his career and image from scratch, often finding himself the target of enraged fans in NBA stadiums across the country. Nevertheless, his perseverance led him to an Olympic gold medal in 2008, and now another NBA championship in 2009.
“I just don’t have to hear that criticism, that idiotic criticism anymore,” said the 2009 NBA Finals MVP. “That’s the biggest thing. For us with the collection of guys that are so young and having gone through what we went through last year (an embarrassing loss to the Boston Celtics in the clinching game of the 2008 NBA Finals) and having the goal in mind of trying to get back to this point…and then to actually do it and to see it all happen, it feels like I’m dreaming right now. I can’t believe this moment is here.”
Ironically, many critics and “Kobe-haters” did not believe he would reach this moment again either, but his perseverance proved the naysayers wrong. He has been able to totally rehabilitate his image, and is again receiving the prestigious endorsements that he enjoyed before the allegations in Colorado. Bryant has proven to people all over the world what can be accomplished with a little perseverance, as he has reestablished himself as one of the most feared and respected basketball players ever to lace up a pair of sneakers.
Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.