An NBA star is accused of some sort of sex crime, and the usual “he said, she said” begins, while there’s a collective yawn from the public. Unless the star is Kobe Bryant, and his hometown is Los Angeles. The instant Bryant was accused, the coverage has been nonstop. From the major networks to the cable channels and even the entertainment shows, Bryant’s tribulations have been the lead story.
The initial reaction an any NBA star getting in trouble is always “here we go again.” But with Bryant, it’s been just the opposite. The press and the public don’t want to believe that Kobe could be involved in this kind of situation. The Sheriff in Eagle County, Colorado even was dismayed by the attention given to Bryant instead of the alleged victim. But Kobe has built a reservoir of good will during his career in the public eye. He’s cooperative with the media, signs autographs for fans, and usually says the right things (in English or Italian, he’s fluent in both). He’s married. He and his wife have a child. He has a reputation for staying at home, or in his hotel room instead of sampling the nightlife in various NBA cities. His teammates say the crime he’s accused of is completely out of character for Bryant. So it’s a long stretch for a lot of people to think Bryant could be that far out of line.
The league is holding its collective breath, hoping the other shoe doesn’t drop on Kobe. He’s their image, their role model. A black man, who has tremendous skills, can converse at just about any level, plays for a high profile team and wins championships. Did you know Kobe was black? Or for some is he not black enough? There’s even a conspiracy theory that the whole thing is a sham, something to give Kobe some street credibility among black city kids so they’ll buy his shoe. As preposterous as that sounds, Allen Iverson’s street “image’ is given the credit as the primary factor for the popularity of his shoes. The whole marketing of the “thug life” is irresponsible to begin with, and the basketball shoe makers walk a fine line in trying to appeal to an urban audience yet staying on the right side of the law.
Bryant’s deal with a soda manufacturer was based on his clean image, easily appealing to mainstream audiences. Selling a basketball shoe is a whole other story. Who’s buying basketball shoes these days? Jr. High, High School and College age males. What demographic makes up this buying group? Young, black guys. And how do you reach this demographic group? By getting one of their heroes to endorse your shoe. One of their heroes who has the right blend of skills and street appeal. A shoe sale notwithstanding, Bryant has said he’s innocent, and when all of the evidence is revealed, he’ll be exonerated. I believe him, even though friends of the victim say it’s hard to believe she’d be involved in anything like this. Unless Kobe is about to disappoint all of us with some dark side he’s been hiding, this thing will just go away.
One thing that won’t go away unless we let it is the simmering resentment between blacks and whites in sports. Dusty Baker’s comments on how Blacks and Latinos are better prepared to deal with the heat showed that resentment bubbling to the surface once again. It also shows the double standard applied to comments made about race in sports. Baker didn’t pay any price, except revealing his ignorance, for his comments. Whites who have made similar comparisons in sports have been chastised and usually fired for such ill-informed utterances. What Baker said isn’t racist, it’s just stupid. It again points out how an expert in or on one field isn’t necessarily qualified to speak about another. Baker might know when to call for the hit and run, but how that qualifies him to comment on the heat exchange rates on different skin colors and metabolisms is a mystery. As the saying goes, better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you’re a fool than open it and remove all doubt.