Head shaved, penitent, no stranger to shame, he’s the private man who compromised his right to privacy. Shorn of pride, swagger gone, he’s too self-disgusted to balk at being singled out as a sinner. Thus does the assemblage witness something previously unimaginable: a media event, on national television, that culminates in Kobe Bryant pleading for his wife’s forgiveness.


As tape whirrs in their hand-size recorders, is there not a man among them with a conscience strong enough to ease Kobe’s burden by saying, “Been there; done that?” It would be enlightening to know what’s on their minds—on the mind of anyone, in fact, who has paid enough attention to Kobe Bryant’s journey to be unsettled by the discovery that suddenly there’s pathos or irony in most everything he’s ever done: the 12 three-pointers in a half, the nine consecutive games in which he scored 40 or more points, the feats of will and daring that, once remembered, make this sad, solemn rite seem even more dissonant. There’s his recent remark that, of all the college courses he’s been taking, his favorite is criminal law. There’s the line from his commercial for one of the companies that has since backed away from him: “What’s my thirst? Staying on top.”

Picture Kobe in his bedroom. Does he wake these days with a start, pace the floor, wonder if all of it—the careful plans, the years of dedication, the love of being on the court—has been for nothing? Or maybe he wakes to a sense of peace, to the belief that it will all come out all right. Maybe he imagines himself playing shadow ball, feinting this way, that way, outfoxing his most worthy opponent: himself. Or does he recall how it feels to be in the zone, of how the basket seems to become huge and time slows, and he’s in a place like no other. Not long ago, he talked about being in the zone, about what made it a kind of religious experience. “You realize,” he says, “that you can do anything you want. And there’s no amount of work that can get you to that place, because what you’re feeling is faith in your skills. Belief. You become the game.”


He used to say, “No one can break me.” At times that phrase seemed the assertion of one who regards self-dramatization as the better part of valor. Now it’s different. Now there are intimations that he is, indeed, breaking. But then breaking may not be entirely a bad thing. Not if what they say is true: that you become strong in the broken places. Maybe he can wrest out of this something useful, something of value. Maybe when he wakes in the middle of the night the person he encounters will be himself. Does he know who that is? He thinks so, and it’s not at all who he thought he was when he saw himself as being so different and better than those other guys. “I’m just a man,” he says at the press conference. “I’m like everybody else.”

The Stacks is Deadspin’s living archive of great journalism, curated by Bronx Banter’s Alex Belth, who also runs Esquire Classic. Follow us on Twitter, @DeadspinStacks, or email us at thestacks@deadspin.com.