We're used to seeing that strength/weakness dichotomy manifest itself on the court, where the same confidence that led Bryant to 24,374 shots and fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list makes him difficult to coach at times, even for Phil Jackson. A similar split can be seen in the comments he made in a recent The New Yorker profile, in which the narrative went from the Miami Heat's hoodie-wearing show of support for Trayvon Martin to Bryant's personal policy on race-related stories:
"I won't react to something just because I'm supposed to, because I'm an African-American. That argument doesn't make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American, we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we've progressed as a society? Well, then don't jump to somebody's defense just because they're African-American."
We live in a world in which people are often motivated by fear -- especially the fear of the unknown -- and embrace the opportunity to play the role of victim. But those things don't apply to Kobe Bryant in his 30s.
Kobe is fearless, doing and saying what he wants without regard to consequence. He doesn't think of himself or others as victims. He doesn't feel things just happen to people. He thinks people determine what happens to them.
Those are admirable traits, but they got him in trouble in this case.
Black Twitter, the same social-media subset that drove the Trayvon Martin story to prominence in the first place, pounced on Bryant's comments. The perception was that Bryant provided distance and criticism of the Heat -- and, by extension, the African-American community -- with his words.
When I ran into Bryant before the Los Angeles Lakers' game against the Phoenix Suns Sunday night, he said that the quote in question does not reflect his thoughts on the Martin case specifically, but in a general sense. Bryant was dismayed that a rift was created between people attacking him for what he said and people defending him -- staunch Kobe supporters, the anti-PC crowd rallying against groupthink -- for saying it. All that does, he said, is create another obstacle when everyone is after the same goal: equality. As for his opinion on the Martin case, which eventually resulted in a not-guilty verdict once George Zimmerman was brought to trial, he echoed the tweet he sent out on Thursday that read:
The flaw I find in Bryant's comments to The New Yorker is the notion that blackness could shroud perspective or preclude people from doing the right thing.