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How Not To Write About Kobe Bryant

Photo: Lintao Zhang (Getty)

SLAM magazine has a cover story about Kobe Bryant out today titled “MAMBA 101: Welcome to Kobe Bryant’s Next Chapter [book emoji].” Tzvi Twersky’s profile is half sycophantic run-through of Bryant’s new projects as a self-appointed visionary-style filmmaker and storyteller and half soft-focus look at Bryant’s turn coaching his 12-year-old daughter’s AAU team. Twersky somehow fails to find space to even mention Bryant’s rape case, but I suppose you had to cut something to discuss how “Writing and publishing, especially in the YA fantasy genre, doesn’t work like pro basketball.”

To fail to mention the infamous 2003 incident where Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old hotel worker, only avoiding a criminal trial by bullying his accuser into silence, would be a sin of omission in any serious piece of writing about Bryant. To ignore it in a adulatory profile of Bryant that burnishes his branded persona as a maverick genius and praises his work with young girls, though, is straight-up journalistic malpractice.

The ostensible purpose of the story is to let NBA fans know what Bryant’s been up to since winning an Oscar in 2018. Per Twersky, he’s been holed up in his Granity office pumping out “creative wins” and embarking on whatever “bold and daring” creative journeys his #MambaMentality takes him on. He compares Bryant’s new young adult book series (which Bryant didn’t write, though he “imagined the story”) to embracing his image as a villain and becoming the Black Mamba.

Bryant and Nike, of course, created the Black Mamba character as a cynical ploy to capitalize on and trivialize the rape allegations. It’s a fitting framing device for Twersky, who’s only interested in doing PR for Bryant. The following quote is presented glowingly:

“A friend asked me the other day,” Bryant pauses, “‘Does it bother you that when Bianka [his 30-month-old daughter] grows up she will know you as a creator and producer and not a basketball player?’”

“I thought about it for a bit and said, Yeah, that’s true. She won’t know that part of my life, but that doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it excites me.”

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He doesn’t want to make money, you see. He wants to make a difference.

The goal of Wizenard, of Bryant’s new fantasy book due out mid-year, can’t be measured that way. The father of four girls—and hero/villain to thousands of other people—wants his tomes to expand the YA genre and to make reading more accessible to young athletes. He wants it to be taught in schools nationally and to affect change worldwide.

“To me,” says Bryant, “Wizenard is successful already. It’s different than sports. In sports, the objective is to win a championship. With this stuff, if one person touches that book and is impacted deeply, then that’s success.”

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Ah yes, Kobe Bryant, the famous artist for social change who was dropped by an animation festival because enough actually creative people protested him over the rape case. Unsurprisingly, Twersky—a former SLAM editor and current “Head of Basketball at Stance Socks”—doesn’t mention that.

Twersky also does not address Mamba Mentality, Bryant’s alleged autobiography—the creation of which Twersky was so deeply involved that the acknowledgements thank him for “[spending] countless hours helping me craft the perfect words to express and define the Mamba Mentality.” Huh! (Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux did not answer an email about who wrote the book.)

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The profile does cover Bryant’s work coaching his daughter’s AAU team. Bryant’s supposed six-year commitment (after which they will be “brimming full of Mamba Mentality”) to coaching the team is presented as a selfless way to give back to basketball, the game that gave so much to him. That’s very sweet of him. All they have to do is wear all-caps MAMBA jerseys and help him sell Nike crap.

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Kobe Bryant’s rape case is particularly inconvenient to the sort of story SLAM wants to tell here because so much of Bryant’s renewed personal brand hinges on his character, his unique drive and passion. Hundreds of athletes could subcontract an author to write a kid’s book about a wizard, but only someone with Bryant’s rabid fanbase and persona could sell it to this degree. The whole sell of “Bryant’s” novel, and his autobiography, and his forthcoming podcast, is that a singular achiever like Bryant has something special to teach us that nobody else could.

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In a just world, that thesis would have been invalidated years ago when Bryant admitted to having sex with a hotel worker without her consent before his lawyers successfully bullied her into settling before a trial by portraying her as a sex-crazed, mentally unstable fan. But we don’t live in that world, we live in this one, where Kobe Bryant is still somehow a brain genius to be fawned over.

[SLAM]

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