"Kobe Bryant is dead," my roommate said waking me up from my midday nap.
I was a little confused.
"Kobe Bryant," she said. I wiped the crust out of my eyes and sat up.
"Who?" I said.
Not the Kobe Bean Bryant I am thinking of. There's no way.
And then she says TMZ is reporting. The same TMZ that said Lil Wayne died? I am gonna need some more confirmation than that. So, I did as anyone would do, I went to Twitter. I found a lot of "whats," "no ways," "WTFs," and "say it ain't sos" that only comes when an icon passes.
If Twitter was around when Pac died, I am imagining it would have felt a lot like this.
There were way too many people trying to use death for clout (you gotta love Twitter, man) and disinformation spreading in real-time. Somebody said Rick Fox was on the plane. Karl Malone's name even got tossed around. ABC and FOX News got a little too creative with their storytelling. It was the closest I have been to mass hysteria since Beyonce's "Lemonade" visual dropped in the middle of the night and the speculation of other well-known people being on the helicopter only fanned the flames.
None of it felt real.
It still doesn't feel real.
"Kobe Bryant is dead" is not a sentence that feels right to utter. This dude was larger than life. He took Brandy to prom! He was in "Bug-A-Boo"! I think about the broken fingers, the Achilles tear, the 60 points he dropped in his last game, the memes, the attitude, whenever I want a glance at true athletic grit and prowess. He never flinched, never seemed fazed. "Ballin Like I'm Kobe" touched my generation way more than any of us really ever knew.
Until suddenly, he was just gone. It's like that moment in the movie when the hero goes down — even when they are down for a while, you know they are going to get back up. I was waiting for the punchline, someone clearly had to be playing a sick joke on the world, Ashton Kutcher come out from behind the bushes! You got us! Time was frozen.
The hero wasn't getting back up.
Not this time, Not from this.
Kobe was supposed to live forever. He was supposed to get as old as Bill Russell, own a team, be at the Lakers' games yelling on the sidelines, and be around to see the Mamba Mentality live on in his own family. You saw his love for the game in his uplifting of younger generations, in his coaching of his daughters' AAU team, in his commitment to the WNBA and women who play the game. Everyone always said Kobe should have a son to carry on his legacy.
Well, he had daughters.
Gianna Bryant was 13 years old and already a different animal in her own right, but the same kind of beast. The girl was a baller, a student of the game. There's a video of her after a dance getting shots up with her heels on and all I can think is "what a badass 13-year-old."
And all that noise about Kobe needing to have a boy? She took it as fuel.
In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Kobe talked about her reaction to people saying he needs a boy to continue his tradition: "Oy, I got this. We don't need a boy for that, I got this!"
And she did have "it." A UConn hopeful at 13, she would've no doubt gone on to shape a new generation of players in the WNBA. He did not need a son because he had Gigi. She grew up courtside at games and brought her dad back to love a new generation of basketball players, like Trae Young, who she said was her favorite player.
I think about all the ankles she would have been broke, all the highlights, and mixtapes that could have been. She was ready to give the world buckets. At 13 years old, you feel like you've got your whole life ahead of you. She woke up like she probably did every day, ready take on the world, write her own story, and leave her own mark on the game.
She died on her way to a basketball tournament at the Mamba Academy. She died on the way to do what she loved, no doubt in the arms of a father who adored her, surrounded by teammates and their families.
People have their reasons for being inspired by Kobe, but the reason why I'm inspired by Kobe is that he was a great dad. He took pride in being a #GirlDad to his daughters' and shining a light on women. We saw this, in the way, he coached his daughters' AAU team. We also saw this, in his commitment to celebrating and promoting female athletes. If you listen to ladies of the WNBA and female athletes across all sports share their stories, it's clear how steadfast he was in shining a light on the next generation of female athletes. He used his platform to uplift and show recognition. Just scroll through his Instagram, it's filled with women like Megan Rapione, Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu, UFC Champ Amanda Nunes, the Mambacitas who he coached and the list goes on.
In a world where women are seen as less-than, inadequate, and not worth investing in, it was neat to see Kobe doing the exact opposite.
By all means, he was an ally which makes me very conflicted in my remembrance of him.
Can someone who's such a great ally also be an admitted rapist?
In 2003, Kobe was charged with felony sexual assault after being accused of raping a 19-year-old girl who worked as a front-desk clerk at a Colorado hotel Bryant was staying at. The case was dropped after the woman was unwilling to testify, possibly stemming from the vilification and harassment she faced. At one point, she was the punchline of a Dave Chapelle joke. It's hard for anyone to stand up to their abuser. Now imagine if your abuser was Kobe-fucking-Bryant.
Like most athletes accused of sexual assault, he released an apology:
"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."
Someone I consider an inspiration, a hero, someone whose spirit touched millions... even him. The world has always been persistent in its disempowerment of women, but Kobe was different. He stood tall in his uplifting of women and tried to lead the example for others to do the same so there's this part of me that's, like... forget it. Just erase that part from Kobe's history. Don't even think about it, he made his repentance. He was a great father, a strong advocate, someone the world looked up to - someone I looked up to.
Then the other part of me speaks.
I can't do that.
As much as I loved Kobe, as much as I know the power of the legacy he leaves behind, it's hard for me not to think about his survivor.
I'm sad that someone so great, someone who exceeded greatness in all categories, someone who was exceptional in all measurements, fell right into the norm. It hurts to imagine Superman, my Superman, being the bad guy in someone else's story. Someone who embodies greatness and inspired millions also was apart of the long list of insidious men who use their power to take from women.
In 2003, the league did nothing to punish Kobe and a year later he went on to sign a seven-year $136 million contract. Kobe, one of the league's biggest stars, was accused of raping someone and practically came out stronger, so are we surprised the NBA has seen this happen more than once? In multiple franchises? I mean, the complacency is painful. The lack of accountability the players are held to just screams "we don't care about women, boys only."
So, how do we honor his legacy and place in basketball history without forgetting this women's life changed forever?
Well, for starters, we don't erase her story.
We hope that she finds the strength she needs to live well after the events of that night and hope she stays strong through the re-telling of her story by voices not her own.
I get it, Kobe Bryant was not actually Superman. Human beings are fragile, without any control over our time here on Earth, deaths like this one are a reminder of that. Human beings have the power to progress and mentioning his faults and acknowledging his wrongdoing does not dishonor his greatness or demystify this legend. Make no mistake, he is a legend. Kids rolling up paper balls and practicing their jump shot on the trash yelling "Kobe!" is something we all have some memory of. Kobe was more than some guy who shot basketball. He was definitely more than that for me. A cultural icon and for so many more a hero.
Legends are imperfect.
Legends have faults.
But legends get remembered.
We will always remember Kobe Bryant.