Tonight, thousands of fans—some who paid up to $25,000 for tickets—will pack into Staples Center in Los Angeles for the much-hyped, sold-out Lakers game, Kobe Bryant's last.
Since he announced his retirement, in poetry form ("Dear Basketball") last November, fans, sports commentators, fellow athletes, and celebrities have celebrated Bryant, calling him one of the greatest basketball players of all time and reliving his most memorable moments in the game. The phrase "the end of an era" is being used a lot.
But there seems to be a collective case of amnesia among the fans and members of the media alike. Lost amid the proverbial confetti is the 2003 sexual assault charge against Bryant which nearly ended his career. Then it didn't.
A quick recap, then: On June 30, 2003, a 19-year-old woman said Bryant raped her in his hotel room at The Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in Colorado. She was working at the front desk. He was staying in the hotel getting ready to have knee surgery.
Every time I said no, he tightened his hold around me
In the morning following the assault, she went to the police. In a videotaped interview with police, the woman said that Bryant asked her for a personal tour of the hotel.
"He asked me in person, like in, uh, private, when no one else was listening," she said.
She gave him the tour—the spa, the exercise room, the outdoor pool, and after the tour, he invited her back to his room. According to Bryant's accuser, they sat down, talked for a few minutes, then he asked her if she would go in the Jacuzzi with him later. She claimed to have felt uneasy and said she wanted to leave. Police asked her why she stuck around.
"Because I was excited to meet Kobe Bryant," she said.
And then things turned. "I stood up to leave, he stood up, asked me to give him a hug," she told police. "I gave him a hug and he started kissing me, and I let him kiss me. And the kissing continued then he took off his pants. And that's when I tried to back up and leave. And that's when he started to choke me."
What followed, according to police interview transcripts, was groping, grabbing, and choking.
"Then he held me by my neck and physically forced me over to the side of the couch," she said.
"He lifted up my skirt," she said. "I said 'no' when he took off my underwear."
The detective asked her how loudly she said "no."
"About as loud as I'm saying it now," she said.
"How do you know he heard you?" the detective asked.
"Because every time I said no, he tightened his hold around me," the woman replied.
She said Bryant raped her, ejaculated inside of her, then "asked me if I liked it when a guy came on my face. I said no."
She struggled, she said, and he continued to choke her. She told police the sex was painful, that she was crying, and that she bled. She claimed that Bryant told her not to tell anybody and wouldn't let her leave the room until she stopped crying.
After her time with police, she went to the hospital for an examination. According to a police affidavit, the nurse who examined her found her injuries, which included two vaginal tears, "consistent with penetrating genital trauma" and with the woman's account of events.
The following day, two detectives interviewed Bryant. "We're not here to destroy your career or your image," one of the detectives said, according to transcripts. "But we do have a serious matter at hand that we'd like to resolve."
"Well. Do I have to?" Bryant asked.
They asked him if he knew the woman. Bryant told them she gave him a tour of the hotel, that they talked in his room and that she showed him a tattoo on her back.They asked if the two hugged. Bryant said no. If they kissed. Bryant said no.
Finally, one of the detectives said, "I'll be blunt and ask you. Did you have sexual intercourse with her?"
I should have done what Shaq does … gives them money or buys them cars.
Bryant said no.
At this point, the detectives reveal that she went to the hospital and that they have blood, pubic hair, semen.
"Okay, listen…" Bryant said. "Is there anyway I can settle this, whatever it is?… If my wife found out that anybody made any type of allegations…"
The detectives, as evidenced by the transcripts, tried to calm him. "Kobe, Kobe, Kobe, hey Kobe, come down here a sec," one of the detectives said.
And then Bryant pivoted: He admitted to having sex with the woman and claimed it was consensual. "She gives me a kiss, so I kiss her back," he said. "I started caressing her or whatever and then she puts her hand, on my, you know, thing or whatever and it kinda goes from there."
Police asked if she said no.
"Okay. I'm thinking, I'm thinking, I'm thinking," he paused. "I'm trying to think of the conversation we had."
They asked him what kind of sex they had, if he was behind her, and as Kobe starts to talk, one of the detectives cuts in, "I don't want you to demonstrate," as if Bryant has begun to do so.
"Hey, Kobe, have you ever had any of these allegations made against you before?" one of the detectives asked.
"No. You kidding me?" Bryant responded.
They ask him if he asked her if she wanted him to ejaculate on her face.
"Yes," said Bryant. "That's when she said no. That's when she said no. That's when she said no."
"Explain to me how you think this was consensual," one detective asks.
"Um, how was it not …" Bryant said.
Bryant told police, "I should have done what Shaq does… gives them money or buys them cars."
Two days later, Bryant was arrested and released on bond. He presented his wife with a $4 million diamond apology ring.
Everything was moving along as planned, but a year later, right before the trial was supposed to start, the criminal charges were dropped because she decided not to testify. Bryant issued a public apology to the woman, without admitting guilt. A civil suit followed, which ended with an undisclosed settlement.
Bryant was back on his feet soon after. Nike rekindled their endorsement deal with him, giving him the bad-boy nickname "The Black Mamba."
On their site, in honor of his retirement, Nike has Bryant-themed merchandise, clips showing highlights of his career, and the phrase, "Loved by many, hated by the rest." When I asked a representative from Nike about why the company stuck by Bryant after the sexual assault charge, the conversation ended.