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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Gerstenberger

Final Score: Kobe Bryant – 1; Culture – 0

For most of my life I’ve been a fair-weather sports fan. Oh sure, I follow the Pittsburgh’s Pirates, Steelers and even the Penguins (but only when they have a shot at the playoffs). I have also been known to take an interest in Tiger Woods and of course Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus over the years. But for the most part, unlike a number of men I know, I don’t really follow sports in any great detail.

Other than the ten years I lived in northeast Ohio, when LeBron James was with the Cavaliers, I never spent much time focusing on the NBA. Of course, I know who Magic Johnson is and couldn’t escape noticing the impact that Michael Jordan had on the game and on Nike! I enjoyed watching Shaquille O'Neal during the two years he played for Cleveland at the end of his career and do remember when Lew Alcindor became a follower of Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971. Outside of a few of these factoids I never took the time or had much of an interest in the NBA.

When I heard about the tragic accident that took the life of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year old daughter recently, like many, my thoughts turned to his surviving family members, his wife and three daughters.

After days of headlines, tributes and eulogies from around the world, I realized Kobe Bryant’s greatest accomplishment did not occur on the court or even in the public eye, but rather in his home, specifically in his marriage and family.

According to one source I came across, the 21-year-old Bryant met 17-year-old Vanessa Laine in November of 1999. The two began dating and became engaged just six months later in May 2000 while Laine was still a senior in high school. They married on April 18, 2001.

Bryant’s parents were opposed to the marriage thinking that their son was too young to get married and because his betrothed was not an Africa-American. Neither they, Bryant’s sisters, his long-time agent or any of his Lakers teammates attended the wedding.

The Bryant’s first daughter was born in 2003 and their second daughter Gianna was born in 2006.

In the summer of 2003 Bryant was arrested on a sexual assault charge filed by a 19-year-old hotel worker who claimed that Bryant forced her into a non-consensual relationship with him in his hotel room. The charges were ultimately dropped when the alleged victim refused to testify.

The scandal cost Bryant dearly. He lost several endorsements from corporate sponsors and the value of his sports memorabilia plummeted. Personally, the event, in all likelihood contributed to a strain in his marriage. His wife filed for divorce from him at the end of 2011 citing irreconcilable differences. However, after a year-long separation the couple announced that they were reconciling and called off their divorce.

In December of 2016 the Bryants had their third child and their fourth child was born in June of 2019.

In 2016 at the age of 38 and the father of four daughters, Bryant retired from his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Some of Bryant’s many on court accomplishments include: Five Time NBA Champion; Two NBA Final MVP Awards; an NBA Most Valuable Player Award; Eighteen NBA All-Star Game Appearances; and Four-Time NBA All-Star Game MVP. However, in my mind, Kobe Bryant’s biggest accomplishment was off the court.

In a society where the divorce rate is 50%, Kobe Bryant and his wife Vanessa defeated our modern-day culture by preserving their marriage. His foolish indiscretion which under normal circumstances would make marital reconciliation difficult must have been even more challenging for he and his wife as the story played out in public for the whole world to see. It is no small accomplishment that a married couple could find reconciliation under such difficult circumstances.

While Bryant may best be remembered for his accomplishments on the basketball court, I will remember him for finishing well on the home front as the husband to one woman and the father of four girls…one who died with him on the way to a basketball game that he would be coaching.

His biggest victory was the defeat he delivered to our modern-day culture which preserved his marriage and family.

Kobe Bryant – 1; Culture – 0

Well done Kobe Bryant. You finished strong.

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