A bartender friend once complained to me that too many men at his bar would get drunk and try to “pull a Kobe.” I picked at the phrase. Did he mean yelling “Kobe!” while trying to throw trash away from downtown — the hobby of an entire generation — or talking shit or refusing to pass the bottle, the conversation, or the spotlight? None of the above, actually. What he meant was his lubricated customers would sometimes act invincible and to see if the world might cooperate. “Pulling a Kobe” lacked a moral vector; these were just tossed-off attempts at immortality.
As the world mourns the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, killed in a helicopter crash on their way to a youth game, Kobe stories are everywhere. In all cases, these stories are about “pulling a Kobe,” something Bryant did consistently enough to warrant the phrase. There’s a lot to be said about Kobe Bryant, a titan of Los Angeles, and a heel, and an institution. But it’s easier and perhaps better to just let the stories do the talking. Almost any two Kobe Bryant stories, held up next to each other, chart a confounding and gifted man in two data points.
Here are the two I’m thinking about in the wake of his death.
2018, Newport Beach
Bryant witnesses a car crash. Without thinking — animated by the indestructible confidence that defined him — Bryant rushes to help the injured parties. He helps pull a dad out. Maybe he doesn’t save the dad’s life, but he makes a bad day a lot better. A week passes and he runs into the same dad, Ryan Williams, who related this on Twitter and to TMZ, at a Starbucks. He talks to him and fist-bumps his kids. This becomes a habit. Bryant goes out of his way to find these kids and acknowledge them. A while later Bryant gets a hiring recommendation from the same dad. It goes well and he hires the friend.
Bryant keeps finding this person he met on the side of the road to thank him. He sees him at a stoplight and shouts the praises of his new assistant.
A month ago, the dad sees another accident and there’s Kobe, helping out. He’s talking to the kids and making sure everyone is alright. He’s being a good neighbor.
2003, Eagle, Colorado
Kobe Bryant meets a 19-year-old hotel employee at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera. They talk for a while and go back to his room. He assaults her and is subsequently charged with sexual assault. He is formally cleared of criminally rape charges in 2003 but releases a long statement prior to the start of a civil case. It’s an unusual statement by any measure. It reads as follows.
First, I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences, she has suffered in the past year. Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure. I also want to apologize to her parents and family members, and to my family and friends and supporters, and to the citizens of Eagle, Colorado. I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case. 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. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter. I issue this statement today fully aware that while one part of this case ends today, another remains. I understand that the civil case against me will go forward. That part of this case will be decided by and between the parties directly involved in the incident and will no longer be a financial or emotional drain on the citizens of the state of Colorado.
Bryant settles the civil case out of court.
Bryant is accused of not apologizing for his behavior. He is also lauded by some for declining to question his accuser’s story, a low bar but one few famous men accused of wrongdoing ever clear. Kobe goes back to playing. He doesn’t speak about the case much — presumably because he doesn’t want to. Commentators don’t speak of it much either. They don’t know what to make of it. It’s not like other cases because it’s not he said, she said. This confounds people. Kobe is reviled and loved. He keeps playing. He dominates. He is reviled and loved.
What can be said of Kobe Bryant? Plenty, but it’s possible that not much needs to be said. With Bryant, what you saw was largely what you got. There was good and bad and legendary.
There was an attentive father and a good guy and an insane competitor and a bad guy. There was a man who tackled the world head-on and was celebrated for it — make of that what you will. Ultimately, what can be said is that Kobe Bryant pulled a Kobe. It’s tautological and simplistic, sure, but that’s the size of it. There’s little worth adding.