The Pursuit of Perfection

When Kobe Bryant passed away on Jan. 26, messages of grief and support poured in from people all around the world. Bryant was an icon for countless individuals — someone who perfectly exemplified everything that they looked for in an athlete and human being. 

In the media, infinite stories were told about Bryant’s inspirational life both on and off the court. They talked about his early morning training sessions where he would be drenched in sweat before 5 a.m., the time he sprained his left achilles on a drive in 2013 but still managed to swish two free throws, and the love and attention he gave his four daughters every single day of his life.

And the media was right to amplify these stories of Bryant. He had a work ethic unlike anyone else in this world. Plus, he was a great role model for me and so many others who strive to be good people and succeed in life.

However, by glorifying Bryant’s legacy, we’re not doing justice to the complete, complicated man he represented. For as passionate and hard-working as he was, he had his flaws. And if we don’t remember them, then we are not honoring the true spirit of Kobe Bryant. 

Bryant’s lowest moment occurred on Jun. 30, 2003 at a hotel in Eagle, Colorado. The night before he was scheduled to have a knee operation at a nearby clinic, he asked a 19-year-old concierge if she would give him a private tour of the property. She obliged, and then Bryant invited her back to his room. He claimed that they went on to have consensual sex; yet, the woman told the police that he sexually assaulted her. As the details unfolded, it became clear that Bryant, 24-years-old and married at the time, did something incredibly wrong. 

The victim’s story was detailed and disturbing. She claimed that Bryant forcefully took off her clothes, aggressively grabbed her by the neck, and made her have sex with him. Despite this narrative, Bryant initially denied having sex with her three times when talking to the police. It wasn’t until the police informed him that the accuser had a physical exam where she was tested for semen and blood evidence that Bryant admitted to having “consensual” sex. 

The accuser ended up charging him with sexual assault and false imprisonment, which could’ve put the beloved athlete in prison for life. For more than a year, the situation lingered as both legal teams built their cases for court. 

Then, on Sept. 1, 2004, one week before opening statements were going to be made, the case was dismissed. As a result of relentless pressure put on by the media and Bryant’s defense team, the victim declined to testify. Instead, she filed a separate civil suit against him saying that she would drop the charges if he issued an extensive apology. 

In a public statement read by his attorney, Bryant said, “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.”

If this incident happened today, now several years into the #MeToo movement, it’s quite possible Bryant wouldn’t have been able to play in the NBA ever again. Rather, because the early 2000s was a time when survivors of sexual assault were often ignored, shamed, and silenced, he got a second chance. 

For the rest of his life, Bryant worked to clean up his act off the court. He looked out for his daughters more and fiercely loved his wife, Vanessa. On the court, he gradually turned into a better, more coachable player, who sought to get the most out of everyone on his team. 

Though, he made perhaps some of his greatest contributions after his career ended. He became a fierce advocate for youth sports, encouraging parents, coaches, and leagues to focus on making sports fun and accessible for everyone. He also left a lasting impact on women’s basketball, as he went through great lengths to help inspire tons of female athletes to reach their full potential

However, despite everything positive that Bryant accomplished throughout his 41 years of life, the incident in Eagle, Colorado will always cast a shadow over his legacy.

By reflecting on the life of Kobe Bryant, it’s clear that he was no saint. He was a human being who had glaring weaknesses and made big mistakes. Nevertheless, it’s imperative that he is remembered for those very reasons. It shows that no matter how badly you screw up, the key to success lies in dealing with failure. For me, that’s where Bryant has had the biggest impact. 

In my life, I’m always thinking back to things I wish I could’ve done differently. I’ve never done anything nearly as bad as Bryant, but I’ve still harmed people in ways that reflect extremely poorly on my personality. 

I’ve had to force myself to live with the disappointment of past decisions so many times, knowing that there was no way I could change what happened. It’s painful and it sucks. Though, if you take that pain and use it as fuel to learn and grow from it, then there’s nothing that can stop you from changing the world.

After that night in Colorado, there was no possible way Bryant could take back what occurred. He messed up, and there’s absolutely no excuse. Yet, throughout the rest of his life, he showed that it’s worth it to give a damn to work and become a better person. He refused to run from the truth of his failures, and demonstrated the supreme value of pursuing perfection. For that reason, society must continue the legacy that Kobe Bryant left behind.

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