Amid the ongoing public debate over Kobe Bryant‘s dual legacies, Hall of Famer Charles Barkley told NBC’s Today that the deceased Los Angeles Lakers legend should be remembered both for his basketball career and for the sexual assault allegations levied against him when he was 24.
‘You have to tell the picture in totality,’ Barkley said while being interviewed ahead of this weekend’s All-Star Game in Chicago. ‘We’re not making Kobe out to be no hero. We’re celebrating his basketball excellence. We understand what happened in Colorado. That’s fair, but two things can be true.’
Bryant was accused of sexual assault by a 19-year-old female hotel employee in Colorado, where he was scheduled to undergo knee surgery in the summer of 2003. He did not deny cheating on his wife, Vanessa, but did claim the sexual encounter was consensual. The accuser, who was never publicly identified, refused to testify at trial, prosecutors dropped the charges against Bryant, and the two settled a civil lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.
The topic has resurfaced following the recent helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others. CBS’ Gayle King, for one, took intense criticism for asking WNBA legend Lisa Leslie about the 2003 sexual assault allegations during an on-air interview.
Speaking with NBC, Barkley did not avoid the topic, as Leslie had with King.
‘Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest basketball players ever,’ said the 56-year-old Barkley. ‘And he had a flaw that we all know about.’
His statement echoed a Hollywood Reporter piece written by retired Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who addressed Bryant’s complicated legacy and effectively agreed with Barkley.
‘We can love and respect Kobe without canonizing him as perfect,’ wrote Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. ‘Death often immortalizes the ideal rather than the real. But it was the real Kobe, flaws and all, that we should love.’
Abdul-Jabbar also took aim at King’s critics such as rappers 50 Center and Snoop Dogg, the latter of whom threatened her by saying, ‘back off before we come get you.’
‘Snoop Dogg has 39.1 million followers on Instagram and 50 Cent has 25.3 million followers on Twitter,’ Abdul-Jabbar wrote. ‘When they send out to their followers a threatening and abusive tirade, they are influencing a younger generation of men to continue to refer to women who don’t do what men want as bitches.
‘Worse, King started receiving death threats.’
Snoop Dogg has since apologized for overreacting to the questions directed at Leslie, and King has publicly forgiven him.
Barkley was interviewed alongside his Inside the NBA co-stars, TNT announcer Ernie Johnson as well as former NBA players Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal, the latter of whom played alongside Bryant in Los Angeles.
While O’Neal and Bryant did win three titles as Lakers teammates, their time together will also be remembered for infighting between the laid-back center and the famously competitive guard.
However, O’Neal downplayed the feud, likening it to typical workplace friction.
‘A lot of people thought we had problems,’ said the 47-year-old O’Neal. ‘It wasn’t real-life problems,’ O’Neal said. ‘It was just – you know, same problems that me and Charles have, same problems that me and Kenny have when we’re at work.
‘But the key thing we have for each other is respect. I tell people, after we won our first championship, who is the little guy that jumped in my arms? Roll the tape.’
At that point, NBC rolled footage of 7-foot-1 O’Neal and the 6-foot-7 ‘little guy’ Bryant celebrating their victory over the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the 2000 NBA Finals.
‘So, once we figured it out, that’s all that mattered to me,’ Shaq added.
O’Neal and Bryant patched things up on several occasions over the years. Bryant even became friendly with O’Neal’s 20-year-old son Shareef, and the two had a text message exchange on the day of the fatal crash.
Bryant and Gianna were buried last week in a private ceremony near the family’s Newport Beach, California home.
There is a memorial service for the two scheduled at Staples Center in Los Angeles on February 24.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Alex Raskin