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Remembering Kobe Bryant — And The Shadow On His Legacy

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

People around the world are remembering Kobe Bryant today, including in the Senate. At the beginning of today's impeachment trial, the chaplain recognized the nine lives lost in a helicopter crash yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARRY BLACK: As millions mourn the deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant and those who died with them...

SHAPIRO: Throughout our coverage, we have explored Kobe Bryant's remarkable legacy on and off the court. Now we're going to talk about a more complicated part of his life. In 2003, he was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old in Colorado. A Martinez is the host of Take Two for Southern California Public Radio, and he joins us now. Welcome.

A MARTINEZ, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: People in LA think of Kobe Bryant as a superhero and for good reason. At the same time, this allegation never fully went away. Remind us of the outline.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. So in July of 2003, he was accused of raping a hotel worker in Colorado. Now, as you mentioned, the case never went to a criminal trial because the person who accused him decided to stop cooperating with police. And instead, it went to a civil trial later in the year and the following year after that. But the whole point is that Kobe Bryant, while coming back to Los Angeles and kind of building up his legacy - for a lot of people, that legacy is complicated. He had this that never became a criminal conviction, but he had to pay the accuser in a civil case. And throughout this whole time, he is playing basketball games.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

MARTINEZ: I can't imagine that happening in this day and age. He is flying from LA to Denver to be at the preliminary hearings at the civil case and coming back to Los Angeles and playing basketball games, scoring 40 and 50 points a game. So throughout this whole thing, in a weird way, that almost cemented his legacy with a lot of Laker fans. It was an odd thing to witness firsthand.

SHAPIRO: And so did it become a shadow cast over the rest of his career, or do you think he was able to leave it in the rearview mirror and fans were able to leave it in the rearview mirror?

MARTINEZ: No because when he got nominated for his Oscar for "Dear Basketball," the short animated film that he made, this was all brought up again. It's in the middle of the #MeToo movement, and some wondered if he should have been someone that should have got a nomination to begin with. Yesterday, I don't think many people were thinking about the case in Colorado too much, but there are some that can't resolve that completely in their brains and in their hearts. And it will always be a big part of his story whether you're a Kobe fan or not.

SHAPIRO: After this was resolved, was it something that he ever talked about later in life, or was it something that he just didn't address?

MARTINEZ: He would mention it. He would mention it from time to time. And, you know, it's one of these things where he would feel very strongly that he was innocent of the charges that he was accused of, and he would seem to use that as motivation for doing some of the things that he would do on the court. It became one of these things where he wouldn't shy away from talking about it, but he was also very, very committed to his innocence. And it had to be fuel for him because it seemed like any time that would be brought up, it would be something that he could use as motivation on the court.

SHAPIRO: How much do you think this ought to be a part of his legacy given his accomplishments on the court and in retirement? There are certainly listeners who think the day after his untimely death is not appropriate to be talking about this.

MARTINEZ: No, it has to be. It's a part of this story. A weird, ironic part of this is that when he was making these flights from LA to Denver and back to LA, he would show up to LAX, the airport here, at about 4 o'clock. And anyone that knows Los Angeles traffic knows that you can't get from LAX to downtown in less than an hour and a half or two hours, so that's when he started taking helicopters.

SHAPIRO: Oh.

MARTINEZ: And that's where he started to understand that, hey; maybe this is something I could do all the time. He started using helicopters to get to Staples Center. He started using helicopters to get from his home in Orange County to practice and to Staples Center for games. So whether people like it or not, this whole thing is linked to his career and his legacy and his life whether you like it or not.

SHAPIRO: A Martinez, host of Take Two for Southern California Public Radio, thanks a lot.

MARTINEZ: Thanks, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.