- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

Kobe Bryant cheerleaders are reeking as they await both his arrival on the court tonight and Sunday, as well as a judge’s decision in his rape case. To his cheerleaders, including the ex-jocks and drolling boys who cover sports, Kobe is The Man, King of the Court, Heir Apparent. Don’t be fooled, though. The Big Boys who cover sports know no more about the real Kobe Bryant than the average NBA fan.

The sportswriters don’t tell you what happens inside the locker rooms, during or pre- or postgame rituals or discussions, and they certainly don’t tell you what happens at the postgame bars and parties, where they mix and mingle and slip and slide with the women who are not their wives. What happens off the court, stays off the court. It’s an unbreached rule. As Sir Charles Barkley said, the writers are as tightlipped as the players.

So, haven’t you wondered why they all were surprised to learn that Kobe had been charged with rape?

Kobe? Rape? Kobe? New husband and father? Kobe? Who doesn’t hang?

Many, if not most, high-profile celebrities have one character that performs before the cameras and another, lesser-known character — the persona known best by his close-knit family. Kobe is no exception. He is just like many a man-child in the promised land of celebritydom.

The Kobe we think we know best has been groomed as a spectacular performer on the basketball court. This is the NBA guard whose star shines brighter than any other, who, at 25, already stands alongside Wilt the Stilt and His Airness. Kobe’s phenomenal athleticism blows his own mind. Even he watches tapes of himself over and over and over again.

His intense focus and concentration for hoop exploits became obvious after he moved from Europe, where he grew up, to Philadelphia, where the throne was erected while he was in high school.

The Kobe we think we know was treated like royalty, and he didn’t take his girlfriend of four years to the prom. Instead, his “handlers” orchestrated a matchup with singer/actress Brandy. His proud dad then worked hard, not to get Kobe into the right college, but to get Kobe into the NBA. And not just into the NBA, but a spot with the America’s NBA team, the Los Angeles Lakers. His Laker teammates often found him aloof, a loner, some say self-absorbed — and with good reason. This was a “teammate” who dressed and undressed away from the locker room.

What happened over the course of the next few years is in the NBA record books and film highlights. Oh, and court records. See, Kobe got married in May 2001 to Vanessa Laine. She, at the time they met, was in high school. He married her despite the advice of his parents, his coach, Michael Jordan and other athletes, who wanted him to go slow, many of them concerned that the fast and close relationship was unnatural.

Now, I could quote any number of psychologists and psychiatrists and others who would explain why Kobe was not ready for that prime-time role. I’ll just say this: Think O.J. Simpson and young Nicole.

The baby came last year and, while this newest Bryant, Natalia, helped to end the estrangement between Kobe and his parents, yet another Kobe emerged. The new Kobe was a 40-point scorer. The new Kobe drank. Socialized. This is the Kobe who reportedly contacted a divorce lawyer last spring. But, is this the Kobe who says he didn’t, then said he did? This the admitted adulterer? The rapist? The loving husband who has been showering his wife with outrageously expensive material things since his exposure? Are there other Kobes? Or a meshing of a familiar persona with one the cameras have not yet shown? Is there a Kobe who keeps to himself and prefers to take sex from a woman not his wife in a hotel many, many miles away from home?

We will never know many of the facts surrounding Kobe’s sexual encounter in Edwards, Colo. We know why he was there (surgery on his right knee), we know where he stayed (the posh Lodge & Spa at Cordillera) and we know how Kobe characterized the sexual encounter (“making the mistake of adultery”).

We will know, this weekend, whether No. 8 still has game. We will know, probably next week, whether Kobe will stand trial for the rape charge. And, if there is a trial, we will come to know whether he is guilty or not.

However, inside that hotel room the night of June 30, there were no cameras. There were lights and plenty of action, but there were no cameras. So, we never will know exactly what happened between the man-child and the 19-year-old. We never will know.

Yep, it’s what we haven’t seen and will never see — on and off the court — that will determine Kobe’s future.

After all, sports writers wield a mighty pen. Just ask Rush Limbaugh.

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