A Champion Again

By Dr. Boyce Watkins
Updated: June 16, 2009

NEW YORK (BASN) — Kobe Bryant started his career with the L.A. Lakers as a tremendous athlete with a valuable brand. His stock rose like an elevator, as Madison Avenue loved him as much as Laker fans.

Then life took a strange twist.

First, there was the nasty departure of Shaquille O’neal, which instantly reduced Kobe and the Lakers to “also-rans” in the NBA playoffs. A man who was used to winning championships was reduced to simply playing for pay.

Off the court, things got even worse.

In 2003, Kobe was accused of a horrifically embarrassing sexual assault, a case that was later dropped. But even though the charges were dropped, the case still had a lasting impact on Bryant’s reputation: Sponsors ran the other way and everyone wondered if Kobe might turn into another “coulda, woulda, shoulda” black athlete.

But he persisted.

The Lakers got a little bit better every year, with that improvement culminating in what some believe to be Kobe’s first “real championship” this year; a title without the boost of a dominant big man. For the first time, the Lakers are champions under Kobe’s watch. He has proven that he is more than a replica of Anfernee Hardaway.

More impressively is the fact that Bryant has rebuilt his tarnished brand. In spite of the fact that he admitted to adultery, and even beyond the shocking details of his encounter with the woman in Colorado, Bryant maintained his position as a family man and hard working athletic warrior.

This consistency kept his spotlight from getting any dimmer than it had already become, and allowed him to use his athletic focus to overcome his personal challenges.

Now Kobe has risen back to the top of the entertainment empire, rankingNo. 10 on the Forbes list of highest paid celebrities. For right or wrong, Kobe Bryant is a household name again, and no longer the man that people once wanted to keep away from their daughters.