There’s a chance that Kobe Bryant will turn out to be the greatest rapist whose ever played the game of basketball. That’s something that, in all the hoopla and hosannas over his remarkable output on days he travels to Colorado and back that night to play, is being lost. Kobe has long been my 2nd favorite player in the NBA (behind Allen Iverson), and someone I considered the best all-around player in the game.
His game is unlike anyone else’s. It’s so personal, so explosive, so contained, yet nuclear and dangerous. He is the kid trying to best his father’s shadow, a rage barely unchecked. He seeks our approval, he wants our love, but he’s overly sensitive, takes things so personally.
Art is not confined for me to the arts. It can be found in any endeavor, whenever what someone does exceeds what we thought was possible. (There are a thousand definitions of art, each designed to suit our personal instinct for what it might be. That definition is one of many I have.) On the basketball court, Kobe is an artist, a master plying his trade.
Last night Kobe left Wally Szczerbiak standing statue still on the baseline, took off from outside the key, absorbed a hit by 7 foot center Michael Olowokandi, floated under the rim, put ungodly English on the ball, kissed it off the back board and delicately through the hoop. And 1. It’s a play that will be replayed many, many times. One only a baller worthy of the Pantheon could make. A play that had me standing up and shouting on my own in my apartment. For a second. And then reality crept in. What if he did it?
The announcers lost no opportunity to express awe at what they felt Kobe was “accomplishing.” It's true that only the best could pull this off, but it’s also his own damn fault. Even if he didn’t rape that girl, and he might have, this is still, at its genesis, a situation of his own creation. Don’t invite her back to your room. Don’t hit on her for 30 minutes and think that entitles you to anything. You’re putting yourself in a horrible situation, even if you did nothing you are accused of, you still fucked up. While I can lose myself in the artistry of his game, I am not in awe of what Kobe is doing. Not anymore. There’s something nagging in the back of my mind, at the end of my tongue, the sense that the controlled violence he plays with might, just maybe, perhaps, translated that night into something horrible. It’s not outside the realm of possibilities.
In college I watched a few female friends (and acquaintances) destroyed when they accused some adolescent boys of the worst kind of violation. One in particular was accused of more than one act by more than one woman. Men who should have known suddenly formed opinions about something they knew nothing about. They and their friends went on the attack against these girls. The women no longer felt safe or comfortable in the place they lived, which is an unforgivable violation in its own right. In the middle of what escalated into a horrible (and ineptly handled by campus administrators and college heads) campus scandal I sat down with someone I was friendly with, who was close to the accused. “This can happen at any time,” he said. “It just scares me to think that I could take some chick home, have sex with her, and the next day she could decide I raped her.” I told him that one one of the dumber things I'd ever heard, that he was being ridiculous. “Besides,” I said “if you are walking around the next morning worried you might be accused of something, you probably fucked up anyway, did something wrong.” In every act I've shared with a woman (and I’ve done some freaky shit) there has not been a time I was not absolutely, 100% sure everything was consensual. There is no grey area here. Maybe there is, but I have yet to come even close to it, and if a grey area does exist, to me your chances of winning the lottery and being falsly accused of rape are about the same.
I think of this a lot as I watch Kobe play. I think of that girl, what might have happened between them that was so bad she decided she had to speak up, despite the media circus, despite a nation of sports fans hating her, despite the fact that no one would believe her. And it’s even worse, we’ve actually forgotten her entirely, she’s invisible. Instead we regale Kobe for his stamina. (And isn't that the worst thing we can worship him for right now? Too tied in, too connected to what he might have done.) I don’t know what happened in that room that night. None of us do. But I know 2 things. If Kobe did it, he deserves to lose his freedom, and she deserves to be left in peace. Even if he is exonerated, he has forever ruined my enjoyment of his gift, his art. I will no longer gape as he explodes past and towards the rim with such controlled fury. I will wonder if, just once, this gift of his got away from him, maybe, just for 30 minutes, he couldn’t contain what made him great.
I’ve never confused athletic greatness with moral superiority or outstanding character. As the playoffs continue there will be moments where I am drawn into Kobe’s world, to his unique and currently unmatched ability to pause time, and I will forget about it all. It will happen again. But then the next thing will happen, the break, and I will think, This may just be the greatest rapist to ever play the game.