When a sports event becomes so big that it produces a flood of coverage, as Kobe Bryant’s season-long goodbye tour has, it’s easy for pundits and reporters to end up in awkward positions simply by virtue of having had to say so much for so long about one thing.
The conversation is even more likely to go sideways when the story in question involves something serious, like a rape investigation. That’s how we ended up with ESPN anchor Hannah Storm and NBA reporter Ramona Shelburne having a very odd conversation on SportsCenter today.
It’s exceedingly strange to suggest that being accused of rape ultimately “freed” Kobe Bryant to become the Black Mamba—a character in Nike commercials and a vicious, selfish shooter—not just because it implicitly paints Bryant, rather than his accuser, as the main principal or victim here, but also because the Black Mamba is nothing more than a branding initiative, a piece of fiction that really doesn’t have any connection to something as grave as a rape allegation.
The Black Mamba comes up, strangely, in the context of Storm and Shelburne talking about how Bryant being accused of rape affected his career and fictional persona. This makes the question of whether or not Bryant raped a woman serve the same function as his rivalry with Shaq, or the development of his post game, and draws a connection between Bryant having been accused of rape and Bryant having, subsequently, come into his athletic prime. As if to heighten the absurdity of the conversation, Shelburne and Storm seamlessly transition from discussing the rape case to a lighthearted bit about whether Bryant will cry tonight.
The fact that Kobe Bryant was accused of rape should absolutely be brought up when talking about him, but it should not be spoken about in vague terms or swept up in the mythologizing of Bryant as a player. Kobe Bryant was once accused of raping a 19-year-old woman in a Colorado hotel room. The criminal case was dropped after the accuser refused to testify. Bryant eventually settled a civil suit with her. None of this has anything to do with basketball.