Friday, September 12, 2003

We hope Kobe Bryant beats the rap in Colorado.

We hope it turns out to be the combination of an overwrought 19-year-old woman and an overeager prosecutor.

We hope this compelling case ends on a whimper instead of with a prison sentence for the accused, or some deal-cutting admission of guilt on his part.

Bryant was one of the leading citizens in sports until the woman stepped into his hotel room.

He was almost too perfect: bright, charming, young and talented.

He was billed as the heir to Michael Jordan’s basketball eminence, which, in a way, was a backhanded compliment.

Bryant, to be accurate, remains ahead of Jordan in the maturation process.

Bryant, who moved from high school to the pros, earned his third NBA championship ring at 23. Jordan did not claim his third NBA title until he was 30. Bryant is a more accomplished shooter on the perimeter than Jordan was at the same age. Bryant also has had Shaquille O’Neal at his side, while Jordan was consigned to playing with a succession of stiffs early in his career.

Of course, these comparisons are inevitably tricky, certainly debatable, the succulence that contributes to the passion in sports.

However, there is no arguing the proposition that Bryant is in a position to exceed Jordan’s legacy. Bryant, who already has completed seven seasons in the NBA, turned all of 25 last month. It undoubtedly was the worst birthday celebration he ever had.

Bryant has taken a beating in the national press since admitting to his adulterous affair in Colorado. His future has been placed on hold. His so-called “carefully cultivated” image as a good guy has been portrayed as a lie.

The latter charge is unfair at this point in the case.

Bryant could be both a good guy and a guy who is susceptible to the same temptations as any other guy. Young guys, in particular, married or not, have a belt-notching tendency about them with women.

Or haven’t you heard?

Wasn’t that one of the concerns of Bryant’s father that led to their initial estrangement? Didn’t the Zen master express the same sentiment before Bryant went ahead with the marriage ceremony?

Right now, somewhere, a parent is dispensing the same spiel: Please, son, think about what you are doing before you agree to spend the rest of your life with a person. There is no rush. You have plenty of time. You have so much to learn about the ways of the world.

Given what we know so far, Bryant is a good guy who made a wrong turn in Colorado. That does not make him a bad guy. That just makes him a guy, no different from most guys.

He did not ask to be anointed a saint. His sainthood was merely the product of a national media that is inclined to splash its subjects with superlatives, in black-and-white terms.

Let’s be honest. Guys are guys. That really should come as no shock on a planet of 6.5billion. There is a lot of action between the sheets out there, and the 348 players in the NBA are an infinitesimal part of it.

Yet we pretend to be shocked by this element of the human condition if it involves an NBA player.

Tell you what. Imagine you are a young man with a zillion dollars in your pocket, a famous face and all these hot, young things cooing in your direction.

What do you do? Do you take a cold shower or do you toy with the flirtatious attention?

Right. An average guy and an interested babe leads to a cold shower.

This is not to suggest that all guys who exchange marital vows end up being guilty of infidelity at some point. The smart ones try not to put themselves in that position. They tend to their families and avoid the scenes that might compromise their best intentions.

Professional athletes do not live that way, can’t live that way. They work odd hours and have an abundance of free time, often in places far removed from family. They live in hotels and hang out in nightclubs. They go out to unwind after a game, to come down from their adrenaline rush.

In this highly spirited environment, they are the ones being pursued by members of the opposite sex instead of as Mother Nature intended it. In the end, they are supposed to possess this unnatural amount of willpower.

Oh, please. The absurdity is obvious.

Any guy who says otherwise either has his girlfriend or wife standing next to him, or he has reached that point in his life when he is almost dead.

Guys know. Guys laugh about it among themselves in the locker room.

One happily married guy recently put it this way: “I feel for Kobe because I just don’t know if I could hold up to that pressure all the time. I probably would slip up.”

This is the one confirmed aspect of the Bryant case. He messed up. We know that. We do not know whether something worse than infidelity happened in that hotel room. We probably never will know.

Yet, from our glass houses, we in the media are trained to throw stones in Bryant’s direction.

We never were young and dumb, full of ourselves. We always practiced incredible self-restraint around hot babes. Still do. Always. A cold shower never fails.

By the way, how many times have some of our leading male talk show hosts on cable television been married?

Just asking.

The Elizabeth Taylor-like pace of some tends to have a jarring effect around certain news items, going back to the days of Gary Condit.

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