What if Kobe Bryant was only remembered for the worst thing he ever did — the worst choice from his past, the biggest regret of life. What if the only thing people chose to remember about Kobe Bryant was the 2003 accusation of sexual assault against him? What if — just what if — the only thing anyone ever remembered Kobe Bryant for was his adulterous encounter which resulted in his arrest? What if the only thing the world remembered about Kobe Bryant was also the worst part of his life?
But he wasn’t.
Eventually, the woman (who accused him) declined to testify and the case was dismissed (though she later filed a civil suit which was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money).
Bryant went on to sign a seven-year $136 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers. In total, Kobe played 20 seasons with the Lakers and is currently 4th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Kobe Bryant died today.
He was only 41.
All evening, heartfelt tributes have been pouring in from people across all walks of life, paying tribute to one of the greatest players in NBA history.
When the news alert came across the numerous media outlets, I was out on a 7-mile run, away from all forms of communication. So when I finished my run, I walked toward the front door and was met on our front porch by my wife. She was holding a glass of ice water in one hand and my iPhone in the other. I took a few gulps of water, lowered the cup, and she handed me my iPhone with the ESPN app open. The headline read, “Kobe Bryant Dead at 41.”
My heart sank.
Ever since high school and college, Kobe Bryant was my favorite basketball player. Essentially, Kobe was the Michael Jordan of my generation (much like Lebron James is the Michael Jordan of my daughter’s generation). I have always been a big Kobe fan. And when he retired in 2016, I more-or-less stopped watching NBA basketball.
But in the later years of my life, I’ve looked back at Kobe’s life and admired his resilience. I envy his ability to move forward. And I admire his wife for forgiving his adulterous encounter. Kobe moved on. Kobe moved on to be a tremendous family man and inspiration to the entire world. That is how he will be remembered. That is his legacy.
I don’t have that option.
It seems like no matter what I do — no matter how many books I write, no matter how many speeches I give — I will always be known as the teacher who hooked up with a student.
Ask yourself this: What if the only thing people knew about you — the only thing by which the world judged you — was the deepest darkest secret of your life, the worst thing you’ve ever done.
How would people view you?
Welcome to my life. That is my legacy.
And my scarred history doesn’t merely impact me. It has (recently) impacted my daughter.
She told me about an incident at school last week. A (former) friend of hers approached her in the hallway at school and said, “I know a secret about your dad, and I don’t think you want everyone to know.”
The next day, my daughter showed up with a copy of my book, After 3PM, gave it to her, and said, “Here. He wrote a book about it. It’s not a secret.” She held her head high and walked away.
I’ve never been more proud of her.
However, the fact that I’ve put her in this position in the first place is the thing that bothers me the most. I’m sure more of her peers are aware of “her dad” than she’s probably fully aware, but if there’s one character trait she’s gained from me, it’s her ability to fight her battles with words and information rather than fists. She could have started a fight with that girl, right there in the hallway (especially since the girl is apparently half my daughter’s height), but she didn’t. She kept a level head and simply presented her adversary with a literary retort.
I nearly wept when she told me the extent to which she stood up for me in the face of ridicule. I was proud of her, but I was also devastated that it was necessary in the first place.
That is my legacy.
My punishment of 25 months in prison was nothing compared to the life sentence of pain, shame, and regret with which I will live until the day I die. And much of that pain stems from the knowledge that my actions hurt so many other people, including my friends, family, and my only daughter.
I am proud of her strength, but I regret that she needs it.
My villainous legacy casts a shadow upon the lives of the people I love. 25 months in prison was nothing compared to that.
No one deserves to have the entirety of their legacy determined by their sinful past if they are striving to create a moral future. People change; people evolve; people grow. Anyone who says differently is merely bitter about being burned by someone who they thought had changed. But the fact of the matter is, people learn from the transgressions of their past. And when it is clear that they are striving to improve, give them the benefit of the doubt. Give people room to change. Give people room to improve.
Give people the chance to rewrite their legacy.
Koby Bryant got the chance to rewrite his legacy and he succeeded admirably. And as far as I’m concerned, that was more impressive than anything he ever did on a basketball court.