Basketball legends never die, a friend joked to me on WhatsApp last Sunday, they just keep hitting fadeaways.
And confessing that he had felt physically sick when he first heard the news of Kobe Bryant’s untimely death in a helicopter crash earlier in the day, he explained that, for him, laughter is still the best medicine.
Others opted for catharsis of a very different sort.
One of these was Serbia’s Novak Djokovic. Watching him on the tennis court, you can be forgiven for sometimes wondering whether you’d get more than ice water if you were to sever one of his blood vessels. When an interviewer at the Australian Open sought from him a reaction to the basketball superstar’s death, the unflappable 32-year-old Belgrade-born current ATP number 1 called Kobe ‘a mentor’ and unabashedly shed public tears.
Another was former Los Angeles Lakers superstar Shaquille O’Neal. He confessed that his major takeaway from the tragedy was the fickleness of Fate, the acute awareness that tomorrow is vouchsafed to no one. So shaken was he by the shocking news that, during a televised session called to celebrate the life of his 41-year-old ex-teammate, he simply could not stop crying. Shaq is indisputably a mountain of a man, standing 7’1” tall and weighing 325lbs.
Both faith, it seems, and seemingly unjust fate can move mountains.
In the media, the tributes have been legion, solemn, heartfelt, moving. And properly focused on Kobe’s basketball, his multiple talents and his general contribution, past and potential, to our world.
One reporter, however, had to apologise for her slip—Freudian?—after she identified ‘the Los Angeles Niggers’ as the franchise for which Kobe had played. She subsequently explained that that most unfortunate slur had occurred because she accidentally conflated the names of two basketball teams, the Knicks and the Lakers.
Plausible deniability? I guess. But would it have been more plausible if she had said ‘knickers’—or would that have raised suspicions that something else was on her mind?
In fact, there has been at least one report of a journalist being ‘suspended’, at least temporarily, for something not dissimilar. It is alleged that, during an early report of his death, she reminded her listeners that there was rape in Kobe’s past.
Rape, we know, is about power, not about sex. Still, it may be useful to point out that some see an organic link between sporting prowess and super-high libido. In A View from Above, for instance, another basketball great, Wilt Chamberlain, then 55, claimed to have bedded more than 20,000 different women. Some have looked at the math (average 1.4-1.5 women per day) and been reluctant to dismiss the claim as preposterous.
And some see a link between Tiger Woods’ decade-long major drought and his Wiltchamberlainesque libido.
In 2009, Woods was not quite 34 and still had a realistic chance of chasing down Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors record. Then only four adrift and on pace to catch and perhaps overhaul the Golden Bear, he is still, more than a decade later, chasing—win #15 only coming last year.
Tiger’s iron play is generally regarded as the best the golfing world has seen. It was not, however, reserved exclusively for favourite courses like Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and Augusta; quite a bit of it the golfing world had in fact not seen and knew nothing about until that fateful November night when his new Cadillac SUV struck a fire hydrant, then a tree…
…and crawling out of the woodwork came more than three dozen hitherto anonymous ladies, all surprisingly fully clothed.
Kobe’s LA Lakers predecessor Magic Johnson once declared—a boast or a confession?—that, in every city on the NBA Tour, there were always dozens of ladies lining up to get a piece of star action.
So it’s not easy to rubbish Kobe’s claim that he thought his 2003 encounter with a 19-year-old hotel employee was ‘consensual’.
‘Consensual’ is also the defence of super-rich former Manchester United stand-out and current Juventus football mega-star Cristiano Ronaldo, winner of multiple Golden Balls. The lawyers for CR7, as he is affectionately styled, insist that the US$375,000 in hush-money already paid to a Nevada woman in a 2010 rape case is compensation enough.
Since my name is now in the public domain, reports say Ms Mayorga objects and wants at least US$200,000 more.
In 2009, Kathryn, a former teacher and model, met Cristiano at a nightclub and went with him and some other people to his hotel suite where, she contends, he assaulted her in a bedroom.
Reminiscent, I think, of the Mike Tyson/Desiree Washington story of 30 years or so ago. Donald Trump, by the way, didn’t buy the victim’s story: “…to a large extent,” he reportedly told NBC Nightly News in 1992, “Mike Tyson was railroaded in this case.”
Tyson does have the sporting prowess means high libido pseudo-defence. But what’s POTUS’ disclaimer for another of his close friends, Jeffrey Epstein, whose sporting prowess, if it existed, is certainly a well-kept secret!
“You have a young woman that was in his hotel room late in the evening at her own will,” Trump continued, “you have a young woman seen dancing for the beauty contest, dancing with a big smile on her face; looked happy as can be.”
To be fair, Trump’s tweet about Kobe’s passing, which spawned a slew of negative reactions on Twitter, (“a brief moment of ‘staff-written’ insincerity”) did not seem to make any waves in the media.
It was after scrutinising the media, though, that WNBA legend Lisa Leslie last Tuesday called on them to be ‘more respectful’ about her long-time friend Kobe and not dredge up unflattering details from his past.
“It’s like if you had questions about it, you had many years to ask him that,” she commented on CBS. “I don’t think it’s something that we should keep hanging over his legacy.”
I submit she knows William Shakespeare’s oft-quoted words from Mark Anthony’s mouth need adapting to the age of social media. It’s not just the evil men actually do that lives after them, she seems to be saying, it’s also the evil they are merely accused of having done.
All mass media members must, from moment to moment, be most mindful of that more nuanced message.