S1: The following podcast contains explicit language.
S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor and author of The Queen, this is Hang Up and listen for the week of January twenty seventh two thousand twenty. This week’s show is about Kobe Bryant’s life and legacy on and off the court on Sunday morning. Bryant’s private helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California, killing him and the other eight people onboard. Among them was Kobe’s 13 year old daughter, Gianna. We’ll be joined later by Gene DEMBY of NPR’s Code Switch, as well as Lyndsey Gibbs, who writes the Power Players newsletter. But first, I’m going to welcome in my co-hosts joining me in Washington, D.C., the author of Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic, Stefan FATSIS. Hey, Josh. With us from Palo Alto. Slate staff writer and the host of Slow Burn Season 3, Joel Anderson haydel. Good morning. So on Sunday, it seemed like pretty much everyone in the world was sharing their thoughts on who Kobe Bryant was, what he meant before any of that, Joel, was just the utter shock that he was dad at age 41. It felt unreal and unfathomable. Originally, it felt like maybe it was a mistake, like it couldn’t possibly have have happened.
S3: What were your initial thoughts when you heard that Kobe had been killed in a helicopter crash?
S4: Well, obviously, you know, my thoughts went in a lot of different directions, right. The first that occurred to me and I did tweet about this as the parallels to the day that Michael Jackson died and that the absolute shock of it, like I remember looking at my computer as it came across.
S5: And I just said, that can’t be real like that. You know, there must be something wrong. Am I looking at like a fake news story from American Eagle Dot Net or something? Right. And then the idea that TMZ was the first news source to report it and you’re like, oh, wow. You know, how did teams you find this out, who, you know, where are they getting this information from? And then, you know, the scramble over the next few hours about, you know, how many people actually died. How did this happen? Who was involved?
S4: And then just sort of grappling with even the part of the quote, you know, I’m using air quotes here, complicated legacy of both of those men. There was just a lot that reminded me of that day that Michael Jackson died. And also because, you know, Kobe meant something to unique to L.A. in a way that Michael Jackson did, too, that he was in it, especially like an L.A. celebrity, a creature of the L.A. celebrity culture in a way that not many other people are. When I think of L.A., I think of like Michael Jackson, Jack, you know, Jack Nicholson, Magic and Kobe. You know, because it’s not a surprise. It like, you know, so many of these guys are Lakers. Right. So those are the things that first sort of occurred to me. And then I went, you know, there was this quote from this 2014 New Yorker profile and he mentions the challenge. It also has to shift to doing something that a majority of people think that us athletes can’t do, which is retire and be great at something else. Giorgio Armani didn’t start Armani until he was 40, 40. There’s such life ahead. And he’s 41 years old. He’s like, oh, God, you’re right. Kobe could have had another 30, 40 years. Who knows what else. It just seemed that Kobe is not that he seemed invincible. But for someone that famous, that omnipresent, that historically indomitable, it just seemed as that he was sort of beyond the reality of mere mortality.
S5: And that’s sort of what I took from yesterday.
S6: I think the outpouring for him was also similar to that outpouring for Michael Jackson, whether it was, you know, people like Barack Obama or every athlete. But just it was inescapable. His death kind of overwhelmed everything in the world in, you know, sports and the Australian Open and Nameis game at at PSG. And just all anyone could think about or talk about was what Kobe Bryant meant, what Kobe Bryant meant to them. And Stefan, you saw that in the NBA where the games went on and there was this kind of spontaneous league wide decision of taking 24 second shot clock violations and he’d caught backcourt violations to start the game in honor of Kobe’s jersey numbers.
S2: That was kind of a lovely impromptu tribute, but also a testament to, as I think it was Lonzo Ball who said that Kobe was our Jordan. The NBA players in the league.
S7: Now, Kobe was their hero for so many of them.
S8: You know, I think that’s exactly right. I mean, you frame athletes and their greatness in the era that they that you grew up in. I mean, there’s, you know, definitely for anyone, you know, your memories of who the greatest were when you were a child are the most indelible, I think. And for players in the NBA who were between the ages of 20 and 30, Kobe was that guy. I mean, Jordan is really a generation removed from them. He’s someone from posters and from videos. Kobe was someone that was watched. So to see that was. I know. Those spontaneous tributes were fitting. I did wonder whether they should have played at all. I mean, you saw players crying on the court before games and you can say the athletes do what athletes do and you know, you got to keep playing. But I’m sure this affected the mental health of these guys.
S2: Kyrie Irving did not play. I don’t think that actually got a whole lot of attention, Joel. But Kyrie Irving was apparently so broken up over Kobe Bryant’s death that he left man, didn’t he winning? Yeah. And didn’t play against the Knicks on Sunday.
S5: Yeah, no. It makes a lot of sense and. You know, I did see a lot of the conversation yesterday around the idea whether or not they should have played. And. I never know kind of where to go on that because, you know, the NBA isn’t like you tend to think of it as a family. But it’s also a business. Right. I remember Malik Sealy died, you know, a few years ago. And I would you know, nobody was canceling games for Malik Sealy. And suddenly we’re sort of the line like which players are important enough and which aren’t important enough for, you know, players decide to take a day. I don’t know, like I take very seriously the idea that those guys were hurting and that they didn’t want to play. But I’m also I kind of understand it, like that’s a really massive undertaking to decide. And one day, hey, we’re going to shut down all the games for, you know, all sorts of reasons. You know, what really got me yesterday is like watching LeBron do that very long walk. And I don’t know who it was that hugged him. But, man, it just was like God. And this is really weighing on these dudes. And you just don’t. I mean, I’m struggling to think of another day in the history of the NBA that I could remember so much spontaneous emotional outpouring.
S9: You know, if you like, has to be players at Johnson’s HIV announcement. Yeah, that must be it. I remember that I was working. I was and I was riveted. The entire newsroom stopped. That was watching the TV and watching in disbelief what we were saying another day that where the news sounded fake.
S4: Right. Like we just like what? What do you know? What are you talking about? Yes, absolutely.
S2: Another guy who was mythologized during his life and partly with Kobe, it was self mythology. He created a legend and embodied it. Sam Henderson wrote a piece for Slate in the mid 2000s about Kobe and and Michael Jordan and about how Kobe lived his whole life in quotation marks. How Kobe tried so desperately to be the next Jordan on the court. Off the court. His obsessive ness, even the way that he had treated his teammates. You know, Nick Young talking about how Kobe was an asshole, but, you know, you still loved him, but did they actually love him? But just the way that he worked so, so desperately hard to be Michael Jordan and he got as close as anyone. And as we saw with this generation of players, they didn’t see it as phony. They didn’t see it as fake.
S7: These are the guys who would know better than we would. And they revered Kobe and thought of him as the pinnacle of NBA success, an icon for how he worked and how he played on the court. It’s like magic in that way. It’s it’s somebody who not only was great, but embodied greatness for, you know, his peers and for his fans.
S9: I watched that video the side by side of Jordan and Kobe. It is astonishing. I mean, I remember watching this whenever it was first put together five or 10 years ago. And the mimicry. It’s uncanny. I mean, it’s not as if in the moment, you know, he’s dribbling against the jazz or the Cavs or whoever. And he says, I’m in the exact situation.
S8: That was Michael wasn’t in a game and you know, nineteen ninety two. But it’s scary to watch and it does reinforce how driven Kobe Bryant was to be as great as the player who was the greatest before he came into player.
S6: Who for me and Joel, I think for our generation like Michael Jordan was the guy. And so it’s just it’s deep. You know, the way that this line has been passed and it’s almost too much, though, the way that LeBron passed Kobe on the scoring list on Saturday.
S2: And Joel, he LeBron went on this long soliloquy about what Kobe had meant to him before this was before the act for Kobe died, talking about how LeBron was playing in a high school all star game when Kobe was playing in the NBA, all star game. And Kobe gave him a pair of shoes and LeBron wore them even though they were a size too small. And just the way that these guys are connected, from LeBron to Kobe to Jordan and Magic. It’s amazing.
S10: I think about that a lot because, you know, if you go back to the comments that LeBron made after the game, like if you just took them out of context, it almost sounds like an obituary. All right. Like these easily saluting a guy that he surpassed in his career. It’s like thinking back on the memory of Kobe. And then the next the next day for him to die. So areaand so I actually I go back to the 2008 Olympics where, you know, they call it the Redeem team. It had, you know, Kobe Bryant way, Carmelo, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, know all these other great players on it. And when things got desperate in the gold medal game against Spain, they deferred to Kobe. And you even hearing about the practices and everything after that, all of those guys said they learned so much from watching Kobe, from the getting up early, getting a practice, watching film, studying the opponent that I’m always typically a person that’s skeptical of the idea that like one guy is working that much harder than a bunch of other professionals. But clearly, there’s something that Kobe impressed upon all these other great players, even amongst them. They believed it was real. And that’s enough for me to say, well, you know what? Maybe I should listen to these dudes because they know who’s real. They know what’s fake. They know what to be impressed by, what not to be impressed by. And if LeBron says he learned from Kobe, then who am I to like, say that Kobe doesn’t deserve this place in the game that doesn’t deserve this stature in the NBA?
S8: And for some truly transcendent athletes, that behavior that drive, you know, is a you can’t be that way without it. Right. But for some of them, it also manifests in their personalities. They are assholes in that driven way. You can’t be as good as Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant without to some degree being an asshole and alienating people and having some sort of personality, not flaw, but characteristic that alienates other people. That leads you to believe that no one else understands who you are or how driven you are, how you have to be, or how important it is for you to work as hard as you do to achieve the greatness that you want.
S2: And this gets back to the mythmaking because Kobe turned that negative into the mamba mentality. He spun that into. I’m not an asshole. I am the ultimate asshole. Right. And he took that kind of competitiveness, obsessiveness, compulsiveness and made it into a brand. And I think as I was reminded and reading a lot of stuff in preparation for the show that mom but nicknamed came out of the sexual assault allegations against him, that he came up with a nickname for himself as a way to compartmentalize. During that season, in 2004, when he stood accused of of sexual assault, he was going back and forth between Colorado and games and L.A. and and elsewhere. And he said, you know, Kobe is the guy who has to deal with all of that all off court stuff.
S3: And the mamba is just the killer on the court. And over the years, the kind of origins there were largely forgotten. And what was remembered was that image that journalists and fans and other players really, really.
S11: But and he used that as the last words he said in the last game of his career walking off the court. He used that as his sign off after his last game after scoring 60 points mamba out and that and personal mythmaking jobs that you referred to. I think you hear it in some of the tributes or at least the quotations from people after his death, too, that they didn’t really know him well, that he was you know, he could be cordial and a good teammate or he could be driven asshole teammate like Nick Young was referring to, but ultimately that nobody was really close to him. Charles Barkley said in a piece that Jackie McMullen wrote for ESPN, I don’t think anybody knew Kobe well. I ain’t going to lie about that. Every time I saw him, he was courteous. He’d come by and say hello. But then he’d keep it moving. He always had to keep it moving.
S2: Let’s welcome in Gene DEMBY of NPR’s Code Switch. Hey, Gene, thanks a lot for coming on the show today. Thank you for having me. The last time we talked to you on this program, I made a whole big joke about how much you hate Kobe. I set up this whole scenario about it on our live show. But it was a thing that I knew about you and a lot of people know about you. A thing that you talk about on on Twitter a lot that you were not a Kobe fan.
S6: And it’s a day, a couple of days where there has been this just tremendous outpouring for him. And I was just curious kind of how you feel, how you felt when you heard that he died and how you felt kind of in the 24 hours since, I’ve actually been kind of surprised at how disorienting it’s all been.
S12: I mean, I think a lot of people said this, but I woke up this morning and I was so I was kind of I thought I dreamt the whole thing. You know, I mean, you know, I talked to Joel about a bunch yesterday, so I know it’s real, but it is if this were sort of like, oh, it feels like someone that I knew died even though I didn’t know him. And I wasn’t obviously like a fan of him necessarily. But I mean, we are roughly contemporaries. I mean, he’s from the Philadelphia area. He’s two years older than me. So when I was a sophomore in high school, he was a senior. His younger cousin actually played for my high school varsity team. So Kobe was the sort of like when he was becoming sort of a local legend before he got drafted. He was sort of he’s always around like just in the conversation. And so because we’re roughly contemporary, I feel like like he’s been a part of my adulthood. My my my adolescence in my adulthood, in a weird way, just like a fixture of it is just sort of sort of just disorienting that he died so young.
S2: So he grows up in Philadelphia, becomes a star at LA Merion High School, took Brandi to the prom after growing up in Italy after buying up.
S6: And he said that he was taking his talents to the NBA.
S13: You know, many, many years before before Brown took it. Right. I said that I think he did the singular, though, he said talent. Okay.
S2: Let’s talk for a minute about Kobe as kind of a teen icon. I mean, there is the airball game against that, the jazz. And in 1997, one of his first years in the NBA. And then after that, he fails so spectacularly in playoffs, he stays up all night shooting jumpers, just like Jane. What do you think about those kind of early Kobe years, whether in high school or in the beginning of his NBA career?
S12: It’s weird because the you know, as you as you guys talked about in the post Denver years, that wilfulness became almost like a brand. Right. Like his sort of singular focus became his brand. But before then, that was definitely like what he was known for. It was that he was when he was like at Lower Merion, it wasn’t just that he was 6 6. And he’s kind of rail thin in high school, but that he was sort of a workhorse. I remember a year after the sixth draft, Allen Iverson, Kobe was always in the same Allen Iverson draft. But let the Sixers drafted Larry Hughes the following year and coming out of sort of some just the pickup games in the area was that Kobe Bryant had outplayed like every guard who’d been playing sort of in the Sixers orbit.
S14: And there were some people, apparently, who wanted to draft Kobe Bryant and the Sixers brass, apparently because he was just that advanced, even though he was obviously still a kid. But there was a lot of talk that he was going to be a better pro. But at the time, it was still very anomalous for high school players to jump to the league and was also especially anomalous for backcourt players to do so. And so I think there was a sense that there was going to be this weird difficulty, Spike, that, you know, that that might not translate to league as effectively as we all know it did.
S9: Yeah, the one person who didn’t have any qualms about that was Jerry West in the Lakers. Isn’t that there’s a story that Bryant comes out talked to do a workout for the team, pre-draft and West, leaves the workout early and says, I’ve seen enough. He’s already better than anybody that’s on our team right now.
S14: Right. I mean, and I mean, I think there was there’s a bunch of layers in the Philadelphians relationship for that Philadephia relationship to Kobe Bryant. I think I sort of resented him just personally, because when you into the Lakers, it looked like he was in line to supplant, you know, temple legend Eddie Jones at the two guard position. I was like, who is this kid? Like, I love that digitals. And so I just had, like, this long, interminable list of reasons to not like this dude. Yeah. That never dissipated.
S15: Well, it’s weird because you’ve mentioned this, right? I’m class in 96, 41. So like Kobe is always sort of been part of like the celebrity landscape in my life. Right. And, you know, we talked about the branding thing, the rap career. I remember in some of these media appearances that he’d made over the years to where he was clearly like trying to make himself into a thing like he was on in the house.
S14: You remember the show in Vegas with Jeff Elgindy? Yeah.
S16: Yeah. Right. He had Derek Fisher like went on there and I was like, oh, yeah. And like, I just totally I totally forgotten it. Like, Kobe had spent a lot of time like trying to build this image of his own as something more than a basketball. He wasn’t just. Like other dudes.
S3: Don’t forget the Destiny’s Child video.
S15: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right, Bugaboo. He was in Bugaboo, too.
S14: Yeah, I think he was very open. I mean, he wanted to be WILESMITH. That’s what he said.
S11: But isn’t that isn’t that a characteristic of Kobe’s entire career, that he was always look like he wanted to be something else? In addition to being the greatest, he was always really trying very, very hard. Until later. Until later.
S14: I think one of the things that always again, like that, I guess, is feels with say there’s always great to me about him, whether he seemed like such a try hard know that. I mean, his dalliances with hip hop. I think a lot of us felt like that was like rich boy cosplay, you know, like he was like, you know, he’s from the suburbs of Philadelphia. He’s a, you know, the child of an NBA player. Right. He’s like a rich suburb or a little bit lower. Marian’s. He’s Italian. Yes, exactly right. He’s sort of this cosmopolitan kid who is trying what seemed like. So some of us like trying really hard to be like someone that he wasn’t, which probably wasn’t completely fair for us to think that. But, you know, we were teenagers. We were I kinda grew to be like, you know, judicious affair. But he always was like clearly position himself to be like this pop culture figure. It’s kind of remarkable to think. I’ve never really thought about this until yesterday. But like the pre rape allegations, Kobe Bryant, just how ubiquitous a pitch man he was. He almost got there. Right. Like, I mean, he was in McDonald’s commercials. I still remember that one time, which was like it was a precocious kid walking off with them. Like, I challenge you to not play a one on one Kobe. And he’s sort of like, oh, oh, no, be easy on me, kid. It was like Kobe is like gentle figure, which is like almost impossible. So I imagine, you know, Kobe the last fifteen years being someone who was like joking around with a kid who would be like, I’ll cut your throat out, you know, I mean, like he sort of was clamoring to be that person, this sort of like pop culture figure in a way that didn’t always seem graceful. It felt very, very like deliberate.
S15: It felt very A-Rod ish. Right. Because I remember you probably remember this. Right. It seems remarkable to say this in retrospect, but that All-Star game where he was named MVP in Philly and they booed him and he’d like looked legitimately hurt, you know, like that’s just like I would never have imagined it. If you move forward ten years, you could never imagine Kobe responding in that way, looking hurt by the crowd, booing him, right?
S14: Absolutely. Remember that Kobe was legitimately surprised by that. And I think that was this part of the other thing was like Kobe was due to toso himself is like a Philadelphian and was also like genuinely and generally disliked by Philadelphians. Once he became a pro. I mean, he was a Laker. Right. So he, you know, one of our, you know, historical rivals. I think there was a sense that he wasn’t a real Philadelphian. There’s all this stuff that was layered into this content for this dude and the fact that he played for the Lakers.
S3: And there’s a lot of antipathy around the country just for people that play for the Lakers.
S6: And, you know, his successes as a pitch man and his success, the perception that he was an all time greater are on his way to getting there was cemented by the fact that he won those three straight titles with Shaq from 2000 to 2002. I mean, there are a lot of prodigies in sports who are anointed as the next great thing and then don’t have the trappings or never attain them to go with it. And whatever else you say about Kobe, he succeeded in the terms that we evaluate star athletes. He won those championships. Shaq may have been the best player on a bunch of those teams, but it was Kobe. Much of the time, if not all of the time, who is winning the games at the end? Because, you know, if Shaq’s free-throw issues and race and Kobe’s more than willingness to take the final shot. And so when you kind of grapple with Kobe and his try hard Nesse, you also have to reckon with the fact, Gene, that he was a winner.
S14: Yeah. So this is why we go. Here we go. I remember after those first three titles that I felt like, oh, shit, they want to run off like seven or eight of these things, right? Like that’s what it felt like. Not three. Not right like that. They were just going to be the team over the next decade. Obviously, we know that imploded. But one of things I think that sort of became clear was that the way Kobe played was not necessarily like condusive in a vacuum. Two championship basketball. Right. I mean, some of those years in between, you know, the 3P and the repeat at the end of the decade where his teams were like mediocre and they should not have been right. I mean, like.
S2: And part of the reason they it seems like sometimes he actively hurt them because it was in that in-between period when Kobe became the most divisive right player. And like even without that, the rape allegation in the off court stuff just strictly from an on-court sense, there was all of this division around why I would be as a player.
S17: And it’s it’s shocking to go back and read about the dysfunction on the Lakers before O’Neal was shipped out. In that, I mean, Crazy Joshes circulated a story from the L.A. Times by Mark Heisler, I think what was it from 2004 to just jaw dropping the details about how much these dudes hated each other, how none of them made any effort to get along, and how Phil Jackson basically sort of threw up his hands because he had no clue how to make this work either and was forced to take sides.
S14: That’s one of the things that’s so frustrating about. I mean, at that moment, I remember when they won the third the third chairmanship. I mean, they defeated my success for the second one, which I will never, ever forget. But when they won the third one against the Nets, it was like, oh, man, they just don’t have anywhere. Weakness is their great defensive team. The opposite has Shaq, who was a cheat code. And Kobe was just like his supreme skill, right. Was that he was willing to take really difficult shots and he could connect enough with them. Right. Lucky and like that. Like a skill that becomes even more important in the playoffs. Right. When like teams know your sets and they know you’re going to run, like sometimes you need somebody who’s going to take what would otherwise be an ill-advised 19 foot fadeaway on the baseline. Like sometimes you need someone who can just knock that down with enough regularity to like keep you in games. And that’s like what Kobe was really good at. And it seemed like to me that he for a lot of like from that the end of the chairmanship run through this sort of vindication happened at the end of the aughts when they won again. Was he couldn’t get out of his own way. Right like that. His desire to win that way. Like to win on those terms meant that the team could not do things that wouldn’t have made them more competitive, like in the aggregate. And so we had the 81 point game. But like, you know, it just it just it never there should’ve been other ways it had you become a better facilitator or some other done some other things. That’s his team would not have been so broken. Like it seemed like he became this sort of heliocentric thing in which like everything revolved around Kobe and. But he also wasn’t a facilitator. So he just got there often some sort of middling and oh, like I mean, even towards the end. I mean, you have so many things to complain about, Kobe. But towards the end, when he re-upped on his extension, I think he signed this huge deal was like after he was already diminished, I think he’d already been really significantly injured. It sort of hamper the Lakers for another two seasons. I think there was a way in which Kobe was like legitimately a selfish person. Right, like that. That they won and they certainly won. I mean, they won five rings. But even you could argue that he wasn’t the best player in the finals on any of those teams. But you almost wonder, like, what would have happened. I mean, this is if like he was put together differently.
S11: Every brilliant player is selfish. Gene Jordan, the selfish LeBron is selfish, but they’re able to use that to their advantage.
S8: And at the same time, when necessary, do the things that are required to make their team do well. I mean, LeBron carried all those teams to the finals that sucked. I mean, Jordan didn’t get to the finals for six years, right? Sure. Right.
S2: I want to hear what Joel has to say about all of this, because I feel like you don’t have the same visceral or didn’t have the same visceral reaction.
S18: And I am so speaking of visceral, like the whole rings count the rings thing is.
S6: So I’ve never liked that or responded to it.
S18: And yet when Gene is going on his monologue there, I am thinking about, well, like he did when five take notes. But Joel Bajo, that’s a lot of titles.
S15: You know, I go back and forth on this, right, because I grew up in Houston. And so as a result, I was not actually even a Jordan fan. I was like one of the few people that, you know, was like, well, I mean, I would never deny him his greatness, but I was just like, let’s just settle down. Like, I was one of the people that would say, well, you know, Kareem, you could make a very good case that Kareem was a better player for longer than he’s the, quote, goat. Right. So when Kobe comes along, I am basically agnostic on his career. I’m just like, you know, this guy is clearly great, but like it. But I don’t. I didn’t think that he was like one of the five best players in NBA history. But as time went on, it’s like we started, you know, the emphasis on analytics. You know, that sort of started to diminish his career. And I sort of bought into that a little bit. I was just like, well, you know, I mean, you know, he was wildly inefficient. He took just like Gene said, you know, he took these really difficult shots. He was very difficult for other people to play with. Like I’ll even remember the thing with took a lot of shots. And I remember like I mean, even like down to the dynamics within the team, he mentioned that like Derek Fisher was the closest teammate of a played with the Nasdaq. And he’s like, man, I’d never been to Kobe’s house. Like, I just remember. You know? Yeah, I think things. Yeah. And I remember things like that. But then like I just saw like so we’ve established that, yes, Kobe was wildly inefficient, made it very difficult for other people to play with him.
S16: Maybe he’s not, you know, one of the top five top ten players that, you know, we think. But then I think about like what the other players have said about him, the people that actually played against him and the reverence they have for him. I always bring things back to football. But I think about it in terms of like old school football, because we know that like running the ball is more inefficient than passing the ball. But then, like defenders and other people, contemporaries in the NFL like have a lot a lot of reverence for Derrick Henry. Like tackling Derrick Henry, like, man, that shit sucks. Like, that’s a very hard game. In other people that defended Kobe during that era. They’re like, yo, like, that dude was like the toughest dude to defend. And I’m just like, God is what if like, maybe there needs to be more space for that. Like, you know, like it it probably will go in the other direction now that Kobe, you know, had this tragic death. But I just wonder if like women, you know, maybe we should be taking, you know, hints from the people that actually played against him in some ways. And, you know, they’re out there on the floor. They know better. Like what was a more difficult check? You know what I mean? And that’s why I’ve started to kind of come around on Kobe in the last few years when you just hear guy after guy. You’re like, you know, that was one dude. I just could not keep her foot to me. That was one guy. He would bust my ass, blah, blah, blah. And so I sort of take that seriously.
S9: What do you guys think changed and sort of Phase 3 of Kobe’s career? Those were in 2009 to 2013 when he blew out his Achilles.
S11: He played with Paul Gasol. They won those two merchant those two titles. He became more of a full player. I mean, do you think it was age? And his maturity thing was having people on the team that maybe liked him or that he liked he had a better complementary cast.
S4: Right? Yeah, that’s right. And they were excessively low. I mean, there was a great long team, right. Is that mean that they were just the easiest way to say it?
S14: Yeah, they they had some continuity. I was like Lamar Odom home. All of us were there for a while. Bynum, I forgot. I think everyone forgot about him. They had some really, really good pieces. I mean, in Pakistan, you have someone who’s a borderline hall of Famer himself. And so it was interesting because he had to be a little bit less Kobe ish. And I think part of that last part of his career was kind of this prolonged Swann’s Owens. I think a lot of people was like sort of giving him his flowers. Right. Like, I think his contemporaries knew he was winding down the Achilles injury. I mean, there was just like this sort of sense that one of the avatars of the league was sort of becoming more diminished. And he talked about it a lot, too. He saw it. He said it’s hot. And it’s very like sort of like he’s can only have so many more dunks in me. You know, I know I’m coming to the end of the thing. So there was like this sort of sympathy towards him. I think that those last few teams over the last few really competitive Lakers things were really illuminating, in part because there were some people who’d like sort of Kobe couldn’t do it by himself anymore, even though like he won that last finals MVP, which was a joke, he shouldn’t have won it. I think that was the game, Michel. Three for 19 or some of us 6 4, 6, 4, 24 in Game 7. So I was me. That was the right our chess game. All right. But by that point, the idea that he’s like this, you know, the ultimate clutch player had been solidified like even though the numbers did not bear it out. Right. Like he is sort of preceded him. Right. I think there was all this goodwill that people were ready to extend in his direction, especially as he became more dim. I think he became like much more appreciated. I think the same thing sort of happens with people who are less controversial like people than I mean, people loved Monu towards the end of his career because he was like, you know, he revels like Mondoweiss moments towards the end. I think that just happens a lot with Dirk would like these these people who are like absolute legends who are in a state of diminution. I just think it’s like this impulse to blow them up a little bit. You know, every time we do something, oh, that’s vintage Kobe, those like, you know, I get it. But it was exhausting.
S3: There were these stretches in his career where he played for good teams and stretches, where he played for bad teams. And when he was on bad teams, he certainly did not subjugate himself to teammates that were inferior.
S2: He didn’t, quote unquote, make the right play like LeBron always does.
S7: You know, in 2013, the thing that I had forgotten in the run up to his tearing his Achilles, he was playing like 48 minutes a game. They were fighting for the eighth seed. He was all this hell at that point for for the NBA. He was playing more minutes than anybody in the league, desperately striving to get them into the playoffs where they would have gotten their their asses kicked. And he was doing it in a very ostentatious, like shot first way that put himself at the center of the team and of of the game. And it was legitimately, I think, what that team needed to attain the ceiling that they were going to attain. But it didn’t necessarily seem like Kobe was less happy or less fulfilled in those situations.
S19: He well loved.
S2: He loved he loved playing forty eight minutes a game and and shooting every time down the floor. And then he Terry’s his Achilles goes and makes the two free throws. And in all of the remembrance, as we’ve seen in the last couple days, Joel, that is the first or second thing that anybody mentions about Kobe is that he made those free throws after he tore his Achilles.
S15: That’s absolutely true. I mean, I hear what you’re saying there, Josh. But also, remember that there was a time when he got caught on camera. You know, had dismissing the contributions of Chris. MYM that he was really cruel to Smush Parker, that he threatened to, you know, go to the Clippers and stuff like that. And there was a playoff series against the Suns, the post Shaq year, where he basically quit in game seven. Do you remember that? Does that? He’s out of the chute. He refused to shoot. So, like, I mean, he. You know. You’re right. I mean, towards the end of the career, we sort of like made up. You know, a lot of the mythology took over from there.
S20: But there were some moments in his career where, like, he was not like ultimate team winner. Love basketball guy. Would he really undermined his teammates in his franchise and didn’t necessarily give his all? And I just I mean, that’s just part of like that’s being a competitor, right? Like, I mean, that’s fair for anybody else. But like with Kobe, like, it kind of gets missed because we we just decided that he was the heir to Jordan.
S14: You know, Nick Green’s piece yesterday was fantastic. It was exactly right. Like there won’t be another Kobe Bryant specifically, because the way he plays is he’s gone. Right. The way he plays just has left the league. And so even the players who sort of MIT who patted themselves after him, like DeMar DeRozan the are considered like really inefficient right there. They’re considered like less valuable than other players who can shoot threes or get more efficient shots. And so in a real way, that Kobe Bryant was the last of this line of mid-range shooting, hyper athletic sweetman. And I just I don’t know if that were to me going up in the 90s. That wasn’t always the way I understood, like the quintessential basketball player. You know, like that was the apex of the sport was somebody who could do those things. I’m sad about what he represented for basketball on a bunch of levels, I guess.
S2: Gene DEMBY of NPR’s Code Switch. Thank you very much. Thank you. Appreciation.
S7: All right. I wanted to let you guys know. A reminder that Joel is going to be touring for slow burn Season 3, begin to pack. It’s going to be a really good five show, totally new story, interviews with guests, people that new begin to park as well as other journalists. And it’s going to be in D.C. on the 5th of February, New York on the 6th. L.A. on the 11th.
S3: San Francisco on February the 13th. Can find out more information and get tickets at Slate.com. Slash Live. Also wanted to let you know that in our bonus segment for Slate Plus members this week, Joel and Stefan and I are going to continue our conversation about Kobe Bryant. It’s our whole show this week and the bonus segment is more of our conversation. We had a lot that we wanted to say and talk about if you want to hear it. And you’re not a member. Sign up for Slate plus just $35 for the first year. You can sign up at Slate.com Slash Hangout.
S17: Plus, let’s bring in Lindsey GIBS. She is the author of the Power Players newsletter about women and sports to which you should subscribe. Lindsey, thanks for coming on the show. Thanks so much for having me. Back in 2016, you wrote a piece titled The Legacy of the Kobe Bryant Rape Case for Think Progress in the aftermath of his death. It has been fascinating to watch how the rape case has been rehashed by the media. And I wanted to ask you first, sort of give a sure your sort of perspective on how you think the inclusion of this chapter of his life has been handled.
S21: I think it’s tough because we, the media and fans into a really good job reckoning with it and discussing it when he was alive. So it makes sense that it would be really also tough, even more tough to discuss when he’s passed away, especially so tragically. I think that I’m seeing two extremes. I’m seeing people who were really affected by the rape case and really remember that so much. And so they’re using that as a way to say that all the other grief about him is invalid. And I’m also seeing the other extreme, which is people going into deep detail, talking about his on-court legacy and ofthought legacy while referring to the rape cases, that Colorado thing and not going into details. And really neither those are sufficient. I mean, I think it’s it is a big part of his legacy. It’s one that he never really properly grappled with and the media let him get away with, not grappling with and addressing for so long. And so I don’t think you can completely ignore it at the same time. I don’t think it should be the only thing that is discussed.
S6: And I understand why a lot of people, you know, want to discuss other things about his legacy right now on ESPN, which is how, you know, I had it on all day yesterday and this morning they were really sticking to sports. There was not I don’t want to say on Sports Center, there was not any mention because I wasn’t watching that the whole time. But if there was, it was extremely passing. And it was entirely focused, I guess, as you would expect, on the outpouring from his NBA peers, from other people and the world, from the action and the games, from the documentary is they, Don, where the all time greats are talking about Kobe’s greatness. But it creates an ABC News did a special report on Kobe that only mentioned it very, very, very glancingly and was extremely hydrographic towards Kobe. And it creates this kind of environment where if you do mention if you do talk about it, if you do try to reckon with it, it’s seen as not in keeping with the tone of the moment of the coverage of being being reverent toward someone who, as you said, died tragically. It feels like based on what what’s normative, that you’re, you know, being impolitic somehow, if you bring it up right.
S22: You’re being a social justice warrior. Your you know, too soon is a thing everyone says.
S21: And it’s hard, though, because like I said, I mean, nobody you know, I would get attacked the same way when I brought it up when he was alive, you know.
S23: So there was never a right time to talk about it. I don’t have the right answer here. I know that I because I wrote this piece and people have been reaching out to me over the past 24 hours. You know, my my direct messages on Twitter are filled. It’s either, you know, it’s it’s a very angry and the very ugly, but it’s also a lot of survivors reaching out who are having very complicated feelings.
S24: And are really upset that they’re not hearing it talked about and want to know if there’s something wrong with them because it’s all they can think about, because the thing about that rape case is part of the legacy it left was the extreme victim shaming that his lawyer did and the media ran with it.
S25: And the way that victim was treated, I mean, there are studies that say like it kept other people from coming forward. People saw how she was treated and they didn’t want to come forward after that because of her. You know, there was no anonymity. The law didn’t protect her. The legal system didn’t protect her. And the media certainly didn’t protect her. And so, you know, a lot of people do remember that. And remember him. Never. Never reckoning with that and never, you know, never say anything while that him Im still enforcing the non-disclosure agreement. You know, a couple years ago, he did a interview with The Washington Post, a big feature, and they reached out to her. And, you know, she couldn’t talk because the NDA. And so I think that that’s important. That impacted a lot of people, too, as did, of course, his basketball and his work in women’s basketball and his relationship with his daughter. It all exists. And it’s uncomfortable that it all exists, but it does. And ignoring it doesn’t help. I think ignoring it just makes survivors from all communities feel more shame, feel more confused and feel like they’re not a part of, you know, our culture, our society.
S4: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, sort of building on your point there that a big part of the glue that holds rape culture together is the idea that what happens to women matters less than the perogative of men.
S20: Right. Or like the way that we want to remember men or you know, how they go about their lives. Right. It’s like we’re always discussing like intentions or whether it’s in discretion, you know, like it’s oh, it’s a youthful indiscretion or something like that. Survivors learned that, like what happened to them doesn’t matter. And so people get that from like police, you know, the colleges, institutions and now sports.
S26: And so like we’re always like prioritizing like here with Kobe, like, you know, people sort of dancing around the idea that, you know, this dude was like credibly accused of rape.
S16: And they’re like, no, this is not a good time to talk about it, you know? But like back then, it was like, oh, this is a guy with the future, you know, and he’s expressed remorse. So he says he didn’t do it. So it’s important to, like keep it in context or he was he was successful and he wouldn’t need it to do that. So, like, why are we discussing this? This is not that or, you know, so they win, isn’t it? When is there ever a good time to talk about this stuff? You know, if it had happened in his youth, we would said he had a great future. But now, you know, yesterday when we you know, we saw people talking about trying to give some context to what happened in Colorado. They say we know he died holding his daughter. He’s a father now. We shouldn’t be talking about that. I mean, when is it when is it okay to talk about this being a part of his legacy? It makes me mad because I just think that people need to let survivors have that and even just sit with it for themselves.
S20: If your support and your admiration for Kobe is strong enough like that, if you like, if you really loved Kobe and he was really important to you, you idolized him. That should be real enough to sustain an analysis or a review of his life as he lived it. Like nobody is telling you how to mourn or that you can’t feel sorry for the fact that he died, that it was a tragedy because it is. But like that should not therefore dictate the way others choose to remember him or what we want to say about his death. And if you have a problem, what you should get the hell up for social media. You should turn off TV and mourn on your own time. But I don’t think that anybody should, like, get mad at people for wanting to talk about this and talk about, hey, did he make proper amends? How did this affect the victim? I mean, the victim today is watching all of this. She’s out there somewhere. Yeah, watching all of this. And like people are saying we don’t want to talk about that now is if what happened to her or what she says happened to her didn’t matter. And that’s really frustrating.
S22: Yeah. And victims everywhere are watching. Survivor is in your life right now. Everyone listening. You know, there are survivors in your life listening to this and reading this and hearing all the dismissals.
S23: And it’s it’s tough because I do hear you know, I hear a lot of you from the black community who say, don’t tell us how to feel. You hear people in the women’s basketball community who you meant so much say don’t tell us how to feel right now. But the fact is there survivors in all of these communities, you know, who survivors aren’t in a community all to themselves.
S24: They’re part of all these other communities. And it’s so it’s so tough because I’ve been been hearing from so many of them. And I don’t know what to tell them. I mean, I you know, I’ve been very vocal about my feeling on Kobe’s legacy and the way the media let him get away with it. And I was crying yesterday over his death. And over the death of d.g. Like all of these emotions are valid, I think. What’s. It gets tough as when, like you said, Joel, you start saying how he mattered to me matters more than how he mattered to you, you know. And how he mattered to you is inconveniencing me.
S17: So you need to be quiet and on the specific matter of the case itself. Lindsey, it’s incredibly instructive to go back and read what happened because the charges were horrifying. The police interviews with the victim and with Bryant were incredibly disturbing. And when the case was resolved and people might not remember, but the victim declined to testify and prosecutors wound up dropping the case. And then there was a civil lawsuit and a settlement with Bryant. Bryant issued an apology, obviously, through his lawyers and PR people and whatever. But the apology read through the lens of today is also astounding. I mean, Bryant acknowledged that he may have sexually assaulted her, basically admits that he in all likelihood raped her. He acknowledges that she said it was not consensual. And reading through all of that, again, you know, it’s hard to read and it’s important to read. And it’s important to fit it into the framework of this global icon’s life.
S3: I’m going to read I’m going to read from that apology. He said in part, Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual. I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. I also want to just note the part from the police reports and interviews. That is the most chilling when you go back and look at it. The victim, alleged victim, said that Kobe said to her, you’re not going to tell anybody right during that alleged assault. She says, I said no. And he didn’t hear me or asked me to say it louder, wanting me to turn around and look at him while I said it. She said that Bryant asked her the question three or four times.
S22: When I went back and revisited this in 2016, I was when he retired that I wrote this my piece. I didn’t remember that much about it. You know, I’d been in high school during the time I remembered the apology ring that he gave. Unless I remembered that press conference. I remembered a little bit about it, but I didn’t remember the details. And really going back and digging into how disturbing, like you said, the allegations really were, how she was treated by the media. And that apology, I mean, who there’s a lot to it. There’s just a lot to it.
S16: There’s a lot to it. And I think that like there is a lot that we can learn from it if we wanted to. Right. It’s funny. We talked about like how shocking yesterday was. Would you know what else was shocking when those allegations came out? Like, I remember waking up in bed and seeing it, you know, ESPN crawl. You know, Kobe Bryant, you know, charged with rape or, you know, facing rape allegations. And I was like, what? Like, it was it was shocking to me, is looking yesterday at the news that he had died and I came home. I was like, what? I remember how old I was, 24, 25 year old. It was like one of the first times, which is sad. I mean, it’s terrible. But the idea that just like just because somebody could have sex with whoever they want, that’s sometimes that they write, you know, to me like I was like, oh, wow, like somebody is accusing him of that. So we could learn from that. But also, I think the other thing is, too. And this is something that like men and people that perpetuate sexual violence because people have to learn is that I believe Kobe, when he says that he doesn’t believe that he raped her, but that is like a failure. First of all, that doesn’t like clear you like in terms of your legal or moral obligations to other people. But like, it is a failure of consent, like a failure to learn what consent is. Because I’ve always said this about Jameis Winston, who I was like. I truly believe that Jameis Winston believe that he’s not a rapist or that he committed sexual assault. But like that doesn’t mean you didn’t do it. And I can see that’s like that’s the sort of thing that like maybe people can learn. I don’t know if we’re going to learn that lesson or not if people are ever going to grapple with it, because even right now, people don’t want to talk about this as part of Kobe’s legacy. But like there’s a chance there to be let go, like this is a good time to review, like witness consent mean to you. And many would go back to the Derrick Rose case like Derrick Rose do. Was it this in his civil case where he said he they asked him what consent was? He’s like, what does that mean? Is that am I getting that right?
S22: Yeah. Yeah. He displayed a lacking knowledge of what consent was.
S23: And yeah, I totally agree, especially for these you know, these athletes are their whole life. They’ve been, you know, lifted up, praised by everyone in there. You know, they haven’t heard no often from anybody about anything, you know, because of because of their status and their talent.
S24: And it’s. Yeah, I completely agree with you. And I think I kept hoping as Kobe grew up and especially. He became such a fixture in the women’s sports community and he had these daughters. I kept hoping that maybe he would reckon with it. You know, some way in somehow. And obviously we’ll never know if he would have.
S27: But it always felt like a missed opportunity for someone who didn’t seem so insightful and to care so much about women that that conversation couldn’t be had. And obviously, now it won’t be.
S28: Lindsay, you’re in Connecticut right now. The Yukon women are going to play the U.S. women’s national team on Monday night. And Kobe had talked about one of the clips that was circulating was him telling Reggie Miller that his his daughter, G-G, was hell bent on playing for U-Conn.. And you know, another clip. Let’s actually play it now.
S7: This is from Jimmy Kimmel Live, where cobia talks about, again, his daughter, G.J..
S29: Do you think your daughter might want to play in the WNBA? She does for sure she does. I know it means that this kid is happy greater than. The best thing the best thing that happens is when you go out and fans come up to me and she’ll be standing next to me and I’d be like, you got to have a boy, you and got to have a boy. They have somebody carry on the tradition, the legacy. She’s like, Oh, I got this.
S30: Well, that’s right. You got this.
S3: Kobe is relationship with G-G, how they would go all around the country and watch games together. Girls high school games, NBA games, women’s college.
S13: He coached her team, travel team.
S3: They were the helicopter was on the way to to a travel game. Lindsey, this is something that people really appreciated while Kobe was alive. The fact that they had this relationship and we’re doing this together and there’s been so much more talk about it since, you know, the helicopter crashed.
S31: It’s staggering to me how much he meant to the women’s basketball community. And of course, everyone on Team USA was close to him and a lot of them know him through the Olympics. I know Diana Taurasi. You know, she was always called White Mamba. That was always her nickname. I was at practice on Sunday, but the news broke right after practice. So haven’t gone to talk to any of the players yet. But I imagine it’s going to be a very emotional night because of what he and G-G meant to USA Basketball and to the Yukon program specifically.
S23: And, you know, the more I think about it and all of the work he did with women’s college players, women’s high school players, the pros and how really passionate he was, it makes me sad that that’s such an exception. Right. That his love for in support of these women is such an exception to the rule.
S32: And I think that if there’s anything I hope that a lot of people can learn from him is that I hope that maybe, you know, other men in sports who have at positions of power will follow in his footsteps in this way. And other dads will take their daughters to WNBA games and encourage their love of sports, because I really think that part of the reason why all the work he did meant so much is because it was so rare. It was so rare to see an icon of his status. I mean, follow every bit of the women’s game the way he did.
S3: Stefan, you’ve coached your daughters teams for years and that’s been a huge part of your life, the coaching and how it’s strengthened and built your relationship with your daughter and and her teammates. This must have been really hard for you to think about that in the context of Kobe and O.J. entirely.
S33: I can completely relate. You know, I don’t have an elite athlete as a kid. I don’t have aspirations for my daughter to play to play some professional sport. But realizing sort of how he got it, he was a good youth sports coach. You know, he understood from the clips I’ve seen, from the testimonials to him, there’s a piece that Tom Farrey, formerly of ESPN, who’s now one of the directors of the Aspen Institute, the youth sports campaign. And Farrey told the story about Kobe getting outraged, watching an opposing basketball coach berate and scream at the girls on his team during a game. And Kobe going up to the guy after the game and saying, if you ever do that again, you’re going to have to deal with me. He understood like what kids need. He also had a really competitive streak. I mean, I think I’d mentioned on the show once how Kobe had gripped participation trophies as unnecessary. And the only use for them was that kids should use them as motivation to become great again.
S8: So he had the drive of the elite, the superstar, but also the the sort of gentle understanding about what kinds of of coaching and teaching kids need to enjoy and do well at sports.
S3: Joel and The New Yorker Profile by Ben MCGRATH from 2014. He talks about G-G, who was then only seven years old and how competitive she was, and playing games with her and how much she saw of himself in her. And I put together a piece yesterday just looking at, you know, from Kobe’s Instagram, the highlights that he posted that highlight videos from barlas Life and Slam of G.J. and watching her play and how great she was. It’s real. It’s really devastating to watch those videos. I mean, what what are your thoughts about G-G in particular?
S10: Yeah, no. I think that, like, it’s an obvious tragedy in addition to like just the nobody should die at the age of 13 years old. Right. But then like we’re denied the opportunity to see her grow into whatever she was going to become like. The idea that Kobe would have had a high level basketball player in the women’s game is something that like I mean, that would have been fantastic to have like watched him, you know, dote on. Be there as that is happening and watch her, you know, become whoever she was going to be. You know, that’s just really hard, like just watching those videos of her and seeing how much like even down to her biting her jersey and the way that he did, you know, that he was known like, you know, like the mannerisms that she had picked up. Right. It’s just really heartbreaking. And I mean, like this. I wish I had something like more like profound to say other than that. That sucks. But it’s really, really, really, really sad. It is interesting cuz I remember from that story if I have it right. The New Yorker profile at one point they were very heavy into soccer because that was like Kobe’s, you know, first sport that he was really good at and really great. And then all of a sudden it flips into like a few years.
S15: And like, it also kind of got him back into the game, too, right. Because he mentioned that.
S26: Which I don’t necessarily believe that he barely watch basketball anymore. You know, he he totally had walked away from the game and did like, you know, it was G-G that wanted to watch basketball, not, you know. So he decided to get turned back into the game. But if that is true, would a gift. You know what? A gift that like she gave him in that way, too. It’s not just like what he imparted on her, but what was she and gave back to him an opportunity to see the game through another lens, an opportunity to re-engage with not just the men’s game, but the women’s game. So, yeah, it’s just it’s just really heartbreaking, man, that regard. You do you just hope that, you know, whoever is around Vanessa Bryant right now is holding her real tight.
S28: Yeah. And Lindsay, I mean, I think you can tell from this conversation, Kobe wasn’t any one thing that we can have a conversation about him that encompasses the sexual assault allegation and his parenting and his relationship with, you know, women players on that. That’s the conversation we should be having.
S34: I think the important thing is how one doesn’t necessarily have to invalidate the other. Right.
S27: It’s not about a competition between these facets of him, but it’s about holding them together, you know, and not completely drowning out one or the other. I think one of the things that’s made this so hard is that Kobe was so present. I mean, he had just been, you know, tweeting to LeBron on his courtside, those games. I’m sure he would have probably better, as you call USA Basketball game today. He was everywhere.
S34: He was still such an active presence in the sports world and in, you know, pop culture at large. And just to have him gone so suddenly, it’s it’s stunning.
S28: Lindsey Gabs writes the Power Players newsletter. She’s also one of the panelists on the Burn It All Down podcast. Lindsey, thank you for taking the time to be with us today. Thank you so much for having me.
S35: All right. That is our show for today. Our producer is Melissa C&P lendlease. Now pashas and subscribe her. Just reach out, go to Slate.com, slash hang up. You can e-mail us at Hang-Up at Slate.com if you’re still here. You might want even more of the show and this week’s show. It’s about Kobe Bryant, our bonus segment. We’re going to continue our conversation.
S36: We’ve talking so much about the comparisons to Jordan. And one thing that I think about, you know, the great Wright Thompson profile of Michael Jordan a few years ago. You know, Michael with 50 and how he just seemed to be like struggling. You know, he didn’t seem like a very happy person. And because of those comparisons and because Kobe had so closely modeled his game, his life, his style, you know, all this to Michael, like it was natural to think, man, a guy who loves basketball this much and has been this excellent at it. How are they going to adjust to post NBA life to hear that joint slate?
S37: Plus, it’s just $35 for the first year. You can sign up at slate.com slash hangout place for Joel Anderson and Stefan FATSIS. I’m Josh Levine remembers. I’m Obeidy. And thanks for listening.
S6: And now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate Plus members. Stefan. Joel, we’re going to keep talking about Kobe.
S28: And in our conversation with Lindsey Gibbs, one of the things that I was thinking about is, OK, if we’re not going to mention the allegations against Kobe, if the ideas that it’s too soon or that it’s because people are mourning, it’s just not the right time to mention it. There are just a there’s some other things that you can’t talk about if you’re not going to talk about that. I already mentioned the Mamba thing. You can’t talk about where mom. But remember, mentality comes from, if you don’t mention that accusations. The other thing, just the totally fascinating relationship between Kobe and Shaq and how Shaq on Sunday talked about Kobe as his brother, how sad he was. And they’ve had so many ups and downs as teammates and afterwards and their relationship with each other.
S7: But in his interview with police immediately after the alleged assault, Kobe says, oh, I should have just done like Shaq does and and pay off women.
S28: And that came out that Kobe had said that. And that caused an enormous rift between them, understandably. And and Joel. And then famous episode where Shaq gets up on stage and raps and talks about, you know, Kobe, how my ass taste.
S38: I hadn’t remembered this, but the whole the whole verse of the whole universe, Kobe riding me out.
S39: That’s why divorce is terrible picture, Mel. I don’t do the honors. Q What’s all evil? I’ve got a vasectomy now I can do. Kobe All my assets. Everybody. Kobe my ass.
S18: It’s unbelievable. Andthen and the idea that, oh, we can’t we can’t talk about any of this like this was talked about. This is so like Pretzel Dan and braided N to Kobe’s career, his life, his self image, the image that other people have of him. It’s unavoidable.
S40: The way that I could sexualize this is that you can only have that kind of animus and dysfunction with somebody that you have a really close, intimate relationship with. Right. And in that way, you know, Shaq, I wish you referred to Kobe like his little brother and even referred in his tweet yesterday to G-G. It’s like his knees. And so I like that. That’s what I think that is. Like that. That’s the kind of thing that you have with a family member. Right. Like where it’s something like a very long ongoing grudge. But you still, like, gravitate back towards each other because they made a big show.
S16: And in fact, there was a literal show where they’d like sitting right there, basically, like Kobe’s legs are right in between Shack’s and Justin, right at each other and talking about their old times and trying to make amends.
S20: Right. Yeah. And so they they had made a lot of a lot of efforts in recent years to like, you know, show to people that they had gotten past that. Right. And so I guess that’s but that’s what I always think of us like, oh, that’s when you’re that mad at somebody when something like that happens. You know, everything that led up to tell me how my ass tastes line. And, you know, that’s the kind of stuff that happens when you’re really close to somebody and there’s a falling out and you sort of have to work your way through that. And again, just coming off the slow burn thing mean I think about like what happened with Biggie and Park and they were very young. You know what? I’m always out while these guys are really young. And it was important. Remember when all this stuff happened, the Colorado stuff, the early years of the Lakers, we’re still talking about guys in their 20s, man, you know, and so they were still sort of working it out and figuring out and growing up on their own. And so, like, it’s not a surprise that like when something went wrong and their friendship, that like they lashed out at each other and that way.
S3: Stefan, when we were, you know, talking about everything that we might possibly cover this week’s episode, there’s you know, there’s a lot we got through a lot. There’s a lot that we didn’t get into. You had just kind of a random thought or memory about Kobe and about his shorts. Do you want to talk about that?
S17: I mean, I wrote an actual after ball ish thing about it, but I’m not going to read it. I can just we can just talk about it.
S11: I love, you know, certain athletes just move beautifully that they are gifted with that grace and that fluidity.
S7: Ken Griffey Junior, the the left, the sweet lefty swaying.
S11: Yes. Or two. Exactly. And to me, Kobe was the pinnacle of that grace that if I could be an athlete and move or walk through life, that’s how I would want to walk through life.
S28: You just really wanted to punch Sasha Videojet.
S11: I think that’s that’s what I talk about. But it was his shorts, man. He wore shorts better than anybody in the NBA. And that’s a hard thing to do because he lived in like the golden age of shorts. Better than Chris Webber, much better than Chris Webber, because shorts have come up a little bit. And it was the way his shorts swayed. It was like they had little weights at the bottom and that in the hems or like they were flared slightly in their design. He just moved the shorts, just moved in this incredibly beautiful fluid metronomic way that I love to watch when he moved up and down the court.
S10: Wow. Yeah, he was a beautiful athlete. Do you know I’m 41 years old, just like Kobe grew up with him as a celebrity my entire life. And like, it’s hard not to be jealous of, like, the way that he move, the way he was athletic. He was a good looking do to me like he had it like like he had everything that you would want to be when you’re 18 years old, like you wish you could be like if when I was 18 years old, as you look at Kobe and like, man, that that seems like that’s gonna be a fun life.
S7: And it sort of buried its way out, you know, through the first 25 years at these young athletic Kobe like there is that one Don query sort of does the Corkscrew 360 ish move? I don’t know if it was actually a full 360, but there’s just one dunk in particular that I remember. He would occasionally like unleash a really surprising, vicious dunk in the half court, which are the best kinds of dunks. But it was that Kobe, the young Kobe, the Kobe on those Shaq teams before he kind of got into like the backing down, fade away sort of game. That’s the one that really stuck out to me, that spoke to me that where I really saw that kind of fluidity. And he was a guy who just coming out straight out of high school, like Gene was talking about, really rare for somebody in the backcourt, just that he was so young at a position where guys just weren’t in the league at that age. I think just we kind of root for people who know whether it’s like Coco Goff or Roger Federer or like people who are really young or really old and are transcended. And Kobe kind of hit us on both sides. And it was really the young Kobe that spoke to me and the old Kobe that didn’t. But other people responded differently to him.
S10: Yeah. And and even that, like we’ve talked so much about the comparisons to Jordan. And one thing that I think about, you know, the great Wright Thompson profile of Michael Jordan a few years ago, you know, Michael at 50 and how he just seemed to be like struggling. You know, he didn’t seem like a very happy person.
S20: And because of those comparisons and because Kobe had so closely modeled his game, his life, his style, you know, all this to Michael, like it was natural to think, man, a guy who loves basketball this much and has been this excellent at it. How are they going to adjust to post NBA life? And I thought he was gonna be a dude who’s gonna struggle to find meaning and purpose in retirement. But they had a lot of ways he sort of modeled what a fulfilling post NBA life might look like. Right? Like, of course, he had the advantages of money and like years spent in the league’s most important market. Right. But it’s clear that like he had given a lot of thought to what came next. Even even before it was over.
S11: Well, I think part of that, Joel, might be intellect, too. I feel like Kobe as a as a sell, as an introspective, thoughtful, more curious person than Michael Jordan. You know, Michael likes cigars and gambling and partying. Kobe didn’t go out.
S17: And that accounts for a lot when you talk about how athletes determine the way that they’re going to shape their post athletic lives. And I think Kobe had the the gift of curiosity and the desire not to sit around and do nothing or to be a figurehead to or to be a figurehead and not be involved in whatever he decided to where he decides to spend his money and stuff.
S4: And we even talked about like even another thing that sort of. Figures from from Jordan is that Kobe seemed to be like a much kinder and more generous person, particularly with his peers. But like we were talking about that, right about like that we hear so many like now yesterday, like these moments of kindness, you know, they were like, it’s not like Kobe made a big show of it, but he had like established all these like relationships with people.
S20: Like he reached out to Wayne Ellington after his father died or he called Ramona Shelburne when she was pregnant. Say, hey, call me when you’re in. You know, let me know when you’re in labor so I can urge you on through like he had like all these like moments of like, oh, a Kobe. Like it wasn’t all a show. It wasn’t all mythmaking. There was at some fundamental piece of him that was a much nicer person than we could have even really realized. Right.
S2: Well, we also talked about how it seemed like Kobe didn’t get close to anyone who didn’t have any friends. So there are that’s a way of maybe that’s a way of compensating to realize this duality to him.
S7: And Ramona Shelburne wrote a really long piece about Kobe after his final game. And I read the whole thing and it was kind of a Kobe in his own words type situation and. It was kind of pitched as like the real story of Kobe or Kobe unfiltered. But I was just reading and be like, he is. I just don’t believe believe this. Like he’s saying, I don’t do things for people to understand me. I say things to help them understand themselves. Like he’s talking in these sort of aphorisms and talking about how none of the stuff that was going. Like all the people talking about his greatness and the legends kind of paying homage to him, how it didn’t really mean anything to him because you need meaning from within. I just didn’t really buy it. But maybe he bought it or maybe he was selling the package that he had sold so effectively in his late career. Just this idea of him being monov and call of him being so, so driven and will fall that he didn’t want to show that any kind of external validation meant anything to him, that the only thing that mattered to him was the drive within. But I don’t I don’t know if it’s fair to call it phony if he believed it.
S17: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know that it’s fair to call it funny either. I got the sense that this is a guy that had some obvious insecurities about his his the strength of his friendships and his relationships with teammates and coaches. And this was his way of asserting control over his life. Louisa Thomas wrote an obituary for The New Yorker’s Web site on Sunday that touched on a lot of this. What was important to Kobe when you go back and sort of pass the arcs of his life, was the idea of him being the narrator of his own story. Him being the author of his own story. And because you’re such a public figure, that’s where your story is transmitted.
S10: It’s clear that like he was very interested in like crafting the narrative of his own life. But I think it also and I don’t want to read too much into it. And like I said, I’m not going to call it phony. But I do think that he, for whatever reason, seemed to be a much more open facing person as he got older. And you could see it in like the younger players and talked about how you talked to me for 45 minutes. You did this or, you know, Steven Jackson, you know, hey, man, you talk to my kid. You know, and it really motivated him. And, you know, it just seemed that like for whatever reason, whether it was in, you know, in trying to burnish his legacy or, you know, to make up for previous insecurities or like make amends for, you know, whatever happened in the past, that he was like really working towards being a better person. And I think there’s like much worse ways that you can like if the criticism that people have to make a Kobe. Is that what he pretended to be a nice person, you know, that he or he was being a nice person to make up for previous, you know, previous indiscretions, like concerns about his personality earlier, that I think that’s like not necessarily a bad thing, like he was at least trying. I think that kind of put a pin on that. Sheriff O’Neal, Shaq’s oldest son, shared on Twitter yesterday that like Kobe had texted him that morning to check on him because, you know, Sheriff O’Neal was transferring from UCLA and we don’t know where he’s going to go. But like Kobe had just checked in with him, like randomly. Hey, like, hey, you okay, fam? And like, that’s you know, I mean, I find it hard. Like, I’m not going to like. There’s reasons to not Kobe. But like him trying to do better as he got older is not one of those things that like I’m going to hold against him.
S2: Thanks, Joel. Thank you. Stefan, thank you. Slate Plus listeners will be back with another show for you guys next week.