February 6, 2020

HUA | How Should We Remember Kobe Bryant?

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Warning: The following content contains sensitive material about sexual assault.

Disposable cameras full of pictures of two-year-old me, propped up on the couch next to my dad, watching the Los Angeles Lakers. From a very young age, I was raised as a Lakers fan, bleeding purple and gold. To be proud of being from Los Angeles was tied directly to being a Lakers fan and to yelling “KOBE” at the TV, outside the Staples Center and next to the court.

My dad, who raised me to be a diehard Kobe Bryant fan, started watching the Lakers because of how spectacular Kobe was. It was more than basketball to him — this was his way of feeling like he belonged in America. Immigrating here a couple of months before I was born, he had almost no English knowledge and even fewer friends here. Kobe and his awe-inspiring performances combined with his indefatigable drive to be better drew my dad in and gave him a home in this foreign country. It pushed him to learn English faster so he could keep up with reporters and with game commentary. The Lakers and Kobe were integral to my dad’s understanding and experience of being an immigrant.

The Lakers and Kobe were also important to my relationship with my dad. When we were going through extended rough spots, we would only be able to comfortably spend time together while watching Lakers games and cheering the famous “KOBE, KOBE, KOBE” at the TV. When Kobe Bryant passed away, my dad, who never swears, messaged me: “What a shit 2020.”

My mourning was not only for Kobe Bryant and the other lives that were lost in the tragic accident. It was also for the remnants of what kept my relationship with my father afloat. But maybe most potently, I cried because I found out about the rape allegation. It took me by surprise, mostly because I hadn’t heard about this until the day of his death. In reading the details, my stomach sank more than usual. My image of a legend and a family staple was tarnished by a serious issue that is incredibly important to me.

Over the next couple of days, I struggled with this dichotomy. Could I still mourn this man and revere him for his positive role in my life, while also respecting and believing the woman who came forward? Are these two mutually exclusive?

Over the past few years, the #MeToo movement has helped contribute nuance to sexual assault and violence. While it seems easy for a public figure to fall into the binary of good and bad, especially under the pressures of social media, it is never that simple — especially in the face of tragedy. As a society, we’ve had to face this issue of weighing their contributions versus their complicity multiple times over the years — Michael Jackson, Aziz Ansari, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Kobe Bryant was a basketball legend, a devoted father and an official ambassador for women’s sports. These actions, while laudable and worthy of praise, do not erase his culpability. It isn’t up to any of us to forgive him for his actions — only the person he affected has that choice. But we can ensure that conversations about him convey the nuance of his legacy and grieve for his loss at the same time.

I am still very grateful for the positive influence that Kobe Bryant had on my life and my father’s life. But I am also more careful about the way I express this gratitude and will not erase the bad parts of his legacy.

Students may consult with counselors from Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) by calling 607-255-5155. Employees may call the Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at 607-255-2673. An Ithaca-based Crisisline is available at 607-272-1616. For additional resources, visit caringcommunity.cornell.edu.

 

Joanna Hua is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jhua@cornellsun.com. Cup of Jo runs every other Friday this semester.