After Kobe Bryant's death, re-examining his alpha male playing persona, his contradictions, and his final role of a father

  • Whether or not you were an NBA fan, Kobe was one of the most-visible public figures of the last quarter century, for fame or infamy.

  • But since Kobe Bryant's retirement from NBA in 2016, the images of Kobe-The-NBA-God began to morph more into Kobe-The-Dad.

  • Throughout this two-decade plus span that we publicly knew Kobe, he was marketed (and self-marketed) as the “man’s man”.

It’s usually my job at night to put our daughter to sleep and place her in her crib, next to our bed. She’s about a year-and-a-half, and every night, awakes with great bombast and dramatic tears, scolding us for leaving her aside. Invariably, she ends up sleeping on the bed between my wife and me.

 After Kobe Bryants death, re-examining his alpha male playing persona, his contradictions, and his final role of a father

File photo of Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant on the shoulders of her father, Kobe, as they attend the women's football match between the United States and China in San Diego. AP Photo

Sure, we’d like to try the ‘Ferber method’ of letting the baby self-soothe herself to sleep, but that sounds way better in theory in practice. In practice, we hear her cry, and, and our first half-asleep instinct is to react. Between us, she sleeps as peacefully as… well, you know… a baby.

I woke up in the middle of the night with her next to me, before turning the other way to check my messages. Friends from around the world sounded frantic and in disbelief. At 2.30 am (IST), I checked the news to find out about Kobe Bryant and eight others—including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna—dying in a helicopter crash in Southern California. I woke up my wife—a lifelong Laker fan—and whispered the news to her, making sure that I wasn’t too loud so not to awake our baby.

Whether or not you were an NBA fan, Kobe was one of the most-visible public figures of the last quarter century, for fame or infamy, with images of him scowling, celebrating, smiling, scoring, winning. But since his retirement in 2016, the images of Kobe-The-NBA-God began to morph more into Kobe-The-Dad. He had four children, all girls, and was often seen with them publicly. He started a training facility called the ‘Mamba Academy’ and did a cover story for SLAM Magazine featuring Gianna—Gigi—and the other girls he was coaching. One of his last memories in the internet consciousness was a meme: him sitting courtside explaining the game intently to Gigi.

Before I say any more, I want to say this. In my view, there’s never any reason to promote oneself as being a good father. If you father a child, the least you can do is put in a good effort on it. Don’t make it about yourself. Just do your job with the child — boy, girl, whatever.

I’ve especially resisted the whole ‘As a father of a daughter’ narrative that some men use to justify that they’re kinder to women than others, as if only girl-dads can somehow achieve this mystic wisdom of valuing women — instead of, you know, everyone valuing everyone equally?

That said, I have to acknowledge what “Kobe-The-Dad” meant to me.

‪Throughout this two-decade plus span that we publicly knew Kobe, he was marketed (and self-marketed) as the “man’s man”. The alpha male, alpha dog, cold-blooded Mamba, the guy who would metaphorically kill you on court to win. Many (but not all) Kobe fans loved this about him. I admired him as a lifelong NBA follower, but never revered him like his hardcore fans.

So, after his retirement, it became refreshing to see this same guy — this hero of a certain type of masculinity — to channel that same energy in promoting women, and specially, women in sports. He made his narrative about his daughters, particularly Gigi, who was following in his footsteps.

Now, you could argue that a part of this narrative was to deflect attention from his 2003 rape allegation, the sexual-assault case in Colorado that tarnished Kobe’s reputation, but more importantly, damaged the life of the victim. I am sure there’s truth to that argument, and nothing he could’ve done since could wash away that unforgivable crime. Kobe should’ve valued that girl in Colorado as he claimed to value all women.

‪But the contradiction of a rape-accused also being a champion for women isn’t completely absurd to me. Good people do terrible things, and terrible people do some good deeds. People are complicated and contradictory, and hero-worship is almost-always a fool’s cause. Kobe was one of the most-complicated ever.

File photo from March 2004 shows Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (centre) during the legal proceedings of the sexual assault case. AP Photo

File photo from March 2004 shows Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (centre) during the legal proceedings of the 2003 sexual assault case in Colorado. AP Photo

Regardless of his tainted past, his attempts to be a great ‘girl-dad’ were an inarguable positive. His choice to vocally supporting women’s sports clearly stemmed from his hope to see his daughter(s) have the potential to earn respect in the same way he did. He approached fatherhood with the same Mamba energy that he approached excellence on-court. He made it cool and ‘normal’ for an influential ‘alpha male’ to revere sportswomen.

This turned masculinity on its head. Suddenly, males obsessed with traditional traits of maleness had one of their idols dedicate himself to women, in the exact same vocation where he earned his own reputation. Gigi, a girl, was gonna be the next Mamba.

And then, the crash.

I thought I was having a fever dream when I first saw the news. Kobe, that undefeatable man, one of the All-Time greats, had died. ‪Gigi, the ‘Mambacita’, died with him.

While my baby slept peacefully next to me, blissfully unaware, ‪I couldn’t stop shaking. I felt like an extended family member had passed away. Even if I wasn’t a big Kobe fan, he was ubiquitous in the lifetime of my devotion to the NBA. I began following the league around the time he joined the league as an over-confident 17-year-old. He was always there, annoying us, delighting us, making us hate him, making us admire him.

I can’t imagine what Kobe went through in those last moments with Gigi. I did hug my baby a little tighter that night — I definitely needed that hug more than she did.

I have always planned to be a feisty about raising her in a society where her equality will be challenged — particularly in India. I didn’t need ‘Kobe-The-Dad’ to teach me that. Just like I didn’t need to become ‘a father of a daughter’ to care about women. I’m already blessed to have countless wonderful women to inspire me.

But Kobe’s stature and particular place in my life stood as a powerful example of how to support and raise a daughter. To his last days, he supported Gigi’s dreams, and was comfortable pushing her into a basketball space often incorrectly-attributed as ‘male’.

Yes, I understand the contradictions. At best, he was imperfect; at worst, he was a criminal who got away. I have no aspirations to be the type of man he was.

But, for most of my life, I did wish for his talent (that was never going to happen) and his drive (almost impossibly difficult, too).

Now, I’m past all that. Now, I just want to be a like ‘Kobe-The-Dad’.

Positive Mamba Energy. Maybe one day it will help with the Ferber method.

Updated Date: Jan 30, 2020 16:39:00 IST



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