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Reputation Lost: Kobe Bryant's Fall From Grace

Kobe Bryant
Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Editors Note: This article was first published in 2003.

Facing felony sexual assault charges for allegedly raping a 19 year old woman in Colorado on June 30th, Los Angeles Laker guard Kobe Bryant reported to pre-season training camp in Hawaii a day late last week.

With so many questions swirling around him from the assembled press corps, his answers were justifiably few. Speaking publicly for the first time since July 18, the normally effervescent and affable Bryant appeared emotionally reserved, even withdrawn at times.

When asked whether he was scared about the case, the five-time NBA All-Star replied, "Terrified."

His emotionally strained response speaks volumes about a case that has captured the interest of millions over the last three months. Based on a preliminary hearing last Thursday, court analysts estimate the trial could begin as early as January, the heart of the NBA regular season.

In the interim, Bryant will seek to rebuild a reputation that seems to be forever tarnished. On the other side of the court docket, a young woman will try to heal from this obviously traumatic incident. And finally, questions related to the case will be relentless and emotionally raw for both parties.

Here are just a few that will probably be brought to the forefront:

How could Bryant, a choirboy by NBA standards, have committed such a horrific act? Is he guilty of sexual assault or just responsible for making an adulterous decision? Will the alleged victim's troubled past play a role in the outcome of the trial? How will this affect the Lakers quest for another title? Perhaps the most penetrating one will be just who is the real Kobe Bryant; the publicly affable superstar or the self-absorbed loner?

To better understand whether Bryant is even capable of committing such a crime we must first remove the glitter and panache that comprises Kobe public persona. When we do so we find a man who is nothing short of an enigma.

By many press accounts, Bryant has been described in recent weeks by friends and teammates as a coddled, selfish, very private, yet hard working individual, who is so dedicated to his craft that his pursuit of basketball excellence borders on obsession.

Part of this apparent self- obsession can be logically traced to a doting mother and an influential father who just happened to be a former professional basketball player himself. Needless to say, Kobe grew up as a child of privilege both on and off the court.

Bryant spent eight years of his childhood in Italy, where his father, a former NBA player for the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers, and Houston Rockets, toiled in an Italian professional league to close out his playing career. Upon his return to the United States at the age of 14, Kobe quickly developed a reputation of being a loner. Many observers point to the fact that he didn't know English very well and had a difficult time understanding black culture in America.

In a recent interview with Newsweek, former girlfriend Jocelyn Ebron describes countless lost evenings and weekends spent with Kobe watching videotapes of his hoop exploits over and over again while most of their peers would be out enjoying typical teenage activities like going to the movies, attending parties, and hanging out at the mall.

Complicating matters further, Bryant's father hired an agent for him while he was still in high school and brokered a pre-draft deal with the Lakers. In addition, Kobe did not take Ebron to his senior prom but R&B star Brandy instead. His agent who wanted to increase his popularity quotient in the waning days before the 1996 NBA draft engineered the date.

Bryants playing career on the court has been nothing short of sensational. He has averaged 21.5 points per game over his first seven seasons, won three NBA titles, been selected for five All-Star teams, and was named Most Valuable Player of that game in 1999. Interestingly enough, despite such dizzying on-court success Kobe has been described as anti-social away from the hardwood.

Often seen as quiet and aloof, Bryant rarely partakes in team activities. Among them, participating in pre-game rituals that include traditional high-fiving and backslapping. On the road, while most players enjoy going out together to various restaurant and nightclubs, Bryant prefers dining alone in his room and watching videos. Most would view this type of behavior as honorable in the sometimes-lurid world of the NBA, and it is, but can also be seen as a symbol of selfishness by many inside NBA circles, including his teammates.

Despite what is perceived as an abundance of personality flaws, no one can question his work ethic and desire to be the best basketball player in the world.

In an interview with Newsweek, his former high school coach Greg Downer said, "He had a focus and concentration that is completely rare for any kid, but that is what made his game so good."

Based on this character study of a famous young man in trouble, what kind of conclusions can be drawn regarding whether he did or did not commit such a horrendous crime? Did his explosive combination of laser-like desire and God given athletic ability set him up for the predicament he currently finds himself in? Or, is he just another example of a superstar athlete getting caught in a star-struck set-up?

An interesting comment Kobe has made in recent days is that his "escape is faith". According to published wire reports, he was quoted as saying, "Sometimes it doesnt seem like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You pray, you have faith. The next thing you know, the light is brighter than ever."

Bryant has spoken little if at all about his faith in the past.

My hope and prayer is that the faith he speaks of is his love and admiration for Jesus Christ. In addition, I pray that Kobe has confessed his sins to our heavenly father. One certainty from this case is that he has admitted to committing the sin of adultery with his accuser.

People often believe that because they seemingly have everything they can possibly want or imagine here on earth that they lead perfect lives. These types of people think they can be perfect, or almost, if they try hard enough. If you believe this than you are sadly mistaken. Only Jesus Christ lived a life that was void of sin.

In I John 1:7-10 the apostle John writes, "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us."

We will have a broken relationship with God until we confess our own sins. Jesus Christ paid for our sins by sacrificing his own life on the cross so that we might have a renewed fellowship with God. Thankfully, we will never know how much that cost.

We can never be good enough to meet Gods standards. No matter what we do or say, we will never reach the pinnacle that is Gods perfection. However, God in his infinite wisdom, goodness, and grace, has shown us a way that we can be in one accord with Him. That is to always walk in the light of His truth and complete perfection. In doing so, we will always want to conduct our lives in such a manner that we are always striving to show our thankfulness for His goodness to us.

With his trial looming, Kobe would be well suited to completely forget about the game of basketball and his place within the pantheon of professional sports. He should take these last few days before his reputation is either restored or completely destroyed and spend it rebuilding his marriage. Above all, Kobe should spend his time further seeking this bright light of faith that he says serves as his escape. He will be amazed at what he will find, as will you.


Tell Me What You Think

Portions from The Transformer, study Bible used in this article.

Sources: Newsweek, Associated Press

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