Sensible Kobe Bryant Commentary

May 14, 2004 | 32 comments
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I’ve been hearing and reading about what a great player Kobe Bryant is, since he is putting up good basketball numbers while also defending himself at trial. I haven’t been particularly impressed with that feat. And I just noticed an ESPN column by writer Jason Whitlock that is more in line with my own feelings. He writes:

“As good as [Kobe] played Tuesday, just think: If the idiot hadn’t stepped out on his wife and slept with a teenage woman he didn’t know, he might have been even better Tuesday night. . . . These are the dangers of a high-profile, married man sleeping with a teenager he’s only known for 30 minutes.”

I agree. Writers should not be making this man out to be a hero because he is being forced defend himself from rape allegations — a position he is in only because he either made a horrendous decision (rape) or merely a very bad decision (“mere” adultery). It is nice that he is able to continue to play well while also dealing with the consequences of his bad choices. But it is nothing heroic. And the best and most admirable thing Kobe Bryant could have done, for his family, his team, and himself, would have been not making those bad choices in the first place.

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32 Responses to Sensible Kobe Bryant Commentary

  1. brayden on May 14, 2004 at 12:33 pm

    That is a sensible comment. I hate the way the media have treated this Kobe case.

  2. Matt Jacobsen on May 14, 2004 at 2:34 pm

    I agree completely that it would have been better for him to have been faithful to his wife. I’m not so sure about the thought that he’d be playing better basketball if he were faithful. My hunch is that the trial has given him even more motivation and drive to succeed. He seems to treat basketball as an escape, and the better he plays the further he distances himself from the rest of his reality.

  3. Kristine on May 14, 2004 at 2:56 pm

    He’d be playing better ball and would likely have made much better decisions off the court, too, if he’d gone to college (ideally, in a world where the NCAA was a principled organization at least somewhat concerned with the welfare of young athletes…whoops, I’m awake now. Never mind.)

  4. Greg Call on May 14, 2004 at 3:18 pm

    You might be a bit too sanguine about the effect of a year or two in college, Kristine. And I’m sure you’re willing to say the same thing about Serena Williams or Se Ri Pak, but how come no one ever does?

  5. John David Payne on May 14, 2004 at 3:35 pm

    I am inclined to agree with Kristine, not just in reference to Kobe Bryant, but in reference to all the other kids that have skipped college to go pro. Teenagers are ruining the NBA. They want to ruin the NFL (see: Clarett, Maurice). As for tennis or golf, I have no idea. But college is a good idea for most everybody, I think.

  6. lyle on May 14, 2004 at 4:14 pm

    1. Reminds me of Sampson; and every other individual who could be happier/serve others/perform better if they obeyed God’s will.

    2. John/Kristine: So…your theory is that everyone should be forced to go to college before starting their profession/using their talents? :)
    Just wondering why it is valid to restrict some folks from working/using their talents in the way that they choose to.

    I.e. moms, salespeople, soldiers, etc. Or is there something special about sports that singles them out for discrimination? How about the 14 year old that is playing pro-Soccer/Football & is in all the magazines in Audi ads as a “hero” & rolemodel for young folks?

  7. Julie in Austin on May 14, 2004 at 4:20 pm

    Lyle–

    I’m so glad for one more chance to argue with you before you head off!

    Yes, moms should go to college. Why? Because many behaviors associated with improved health and safety of children (such as breastfeeding) are directly correlated with maternal education.

  8. lyle on May 14, 2004 at 4:40 pm

    Julie: Sorry to disappoint…there is no argument! :)

    I am 100% supportive of that (see comments at Dave’s Mormon inquiry)…moreso than most. Perhaps it is just a personal quirk: but I don’t date women that don’t have at least a BA & are planning for another degree.

    The querry was _pointed_ re: the issue of force: i.e. no one is _allowed_ to become a mom, or football player, or soldier, etc. until they get a college degree or “magnify their talent”/knowledge for the given career via college participation/education.

  9. Greg Call on May 14, 2004 at 5:28 pm

    Julie, there may be a correlation/causation problem with the breastfeeding statistics. It really doesn’t tell us much.

    Of course I think college would benefit most people. But believe it or not, many people manage to live a full, productive, and moral life, and even be good parents, after spending their “college years” in beauty school, an apprenticeship with a plumber, or just travelling.

    Great athletes have a talent that society values quite highly, judging by how much they are paid. That gift is fleeting, however, and is at its peak from age 18-30 (or so). I don’t fault them a bit for monetizing it when they can. For a lot of these kids, it is a chance to pull themselves and their families out of poverty. Many of the smart ones end up going to college anyway when their career flops, or even at the end of their career. Shaq finished his college degree while playing.

    Many actors and actresses drop of out high school (let alone college) to pursue film careers. Yet I never see much handwringing about that. Something tells me that other factors are at work in our fretting about these rich, young, black men and their life choices. Whether its “good for the game,” John, is another matter.

  10. Kristine on May 14, 2004 at 5:29 pm

    Lyle, there was no mention of force in my comment. I think we might actually agree (you saw it here first, folks!) that forcing people to go to college is a stupid idea.

    Greg, it’s not so much college that I think would help (though I do), as just a couple more years to grow up outside the pressure cooker.

  11. Nate Oman on May 14, 2004 at 5:42 pm

    It seems to me that the recent spat about keeping kids out of the NFL has everything to do with shielding current players from competition (and lower salaries). For my money, I think that someone out to string the NFL up and whack it with a couple of good suits under the Sherman Act.

  12. Gary Cooper on May 14, 2004 at 5:49 pm

    Nate,

    Have you spoken with Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders, lately? I agree with you, and the NCAA should be brought before a judge under the same law.

  13. Jim F. on May 14, 2004 at 6:04 pm

    Since a good deal of what happens to athletes at universities is thinly disguised exploitation–if you divide the amount they get in scholarship by the number of hours they commit to athletics, they aren’t getting much per hour, but the remote possibility of making it big in professional athletics is dangled as a carrot before them to keep them at it–I’m not so sure that time in college is really such a good thing for athletes.

    Having descended from a long line of rednecks who never made it to college and managed to live quite fruitful lives, though I think many should go to college and that college ought not to be primarily a place for career preparation, I’m not ready to say that everyone should go to college.

    Perhaps Kristine’s way of putting it is best: it would be better for all if everyone had some way of spending some time out of the pressure cooker rather than going straight from high school and adolescence into adult responsibility. College is one very good way to do that, but not the only way.

  14. Greg Call on May 14, 2004 at 6:05 pm

    That crook Bud Selig needs to go down too. Talk about ruining the game…

  15. Frank McIntyre on May 14, 2004 at 6:18 pm

    I think these sports regimes actually have an exemption from Sherman. Check with your lawyer (oh wait, you’re all lawyers…)

    I am all for mothers getting education, but please don’t use a statistic on correlation as a causal measure. It causes my left side to freeze up and start convulsing and I have to double up on my medication. The problem in this case is that mothers with more education chose to get more education, and did so for reasons the correlation does not account for.

    The whole college sports phenomonen is actually a little odd in and of itself. Although some of the athletes are a natural fit for college, others are there solely because it is the place one goes to play ball after high school. How much do they really benefit from college in that case? I’m guessing the value of that particular schooling is low on average, and the resources might be better off somewhere else. I wonder if there might not be a better way to get schools their athletic fix than the current regime.

    As for Kobe Bryant—I’m glad I’m not him. But he’s not exactly a child any more right?

  16. Frank McIntyre on May 14, 2004 at 6:35 pm

    Presumably by exploitation, Jim means that the universities appropriate dollars for themselves that, in a competitive market would flow to the athlete. I am not sure this is true as many athletes are probably less important than the team to which they are associated. Thus the dollars follow the school more than the athlete.

    There is surely some exploitation in that the NCAA rules create collusion to keep down compensation. On the other hand, the real exploitaion is that the universities and sports teams more generally hold monopolies on a set of products (each specific teamsand sport) and they use these monopolies to hike prices above competitive levels—thus transferring wealth from sports fans to their stekeholders and, furthermore, creating a net loss, the evil “inefficiency” where some of sports fans’ loss is no one’s gain.

  17. Nate Oman on May 14, 2004 at 6:45 pm

    Frank: My understanding is that professional baseball is specifically exempted from the strictures of the Sherman Act but that other professional sports are not. I don’t know if there are judicially created exemptions for other professional sports. I believe that there was a Sherman Act suit against the NFL with regard to the most current draft but it got resolved on procedural grounds (mootness?) without reaching the substantive issue? Anyone have more info on this?

  18. Julie in Austin on May 14, 2004 at 6:49 pm

    Frank and anyone else who I have caused to suffer physically–

    You’ll note the word ‘correlate’ not ’cause’ in my original comment. So calm down.

    However, it does seem more likely to me that, instead of women predisposed to breastfeeding being more likely to attend college (for example), that college-educated women are more likely to be aware of the advantages of breastfeeding as a direct result of their education.

    My personal experience bears this out: almost all degreed women I know breastfeed because they are aware of the advantages, non-educated women don’t, and seem completely unaware that there might be any disadvantage to formula feeding.

  19. Kaimi on May 14, 2004 at 6:50 pm

    Nate,

    Surely you remember Flood v. Kuhn — where else do you find a Supreme Court Justice reciting a list of seventy-odd baseball greats?

    As I recall, the anti-NFL antitrust case brought in the 80′s resulted in nominal damages of $1.

    The current draft is still being litigated, I think — Judge Schiendlin said that the Act applied and granted the request for an injunction; the 2d Circuit stayed the injunction, and the appeal will be held at some point later this year.

  20. Greg Call on May 14, 2004 at 7:00 pm

    Nate,

    You are right. Baseball has been held to be exempt from the Sherman Act since a 1922 opinion by Justice Holmes. (The reasoning was that the interstate aspect of baseball was de minimus.) No other professional leagues have such an exemption. Otherwise, the Rams would still be in LA and Browns in Baltimore.

    Congress actually held hearing on baseball’s exemption a year or two ago, and Bud Selig (using cooked booked) convinced lawmakers that baseball *needed* the exemption to survive.

    I don’t know much about the recent NFL/Clarett brouhaha.

  21. Greg Call on May 14, 2004 at 7:04 pm

    Whoops. Should be “cooked books”

  22. Greg Call on May 14, 2004 at 7:14 pm

    How embarrassing to have to post two corrections to one post, but I must point out that I meant to say that the without the Sherman Act the original Browns would not have been able to leave Cleveland for Baltimore.

  23. John David Payne on May 14, 2004 at 7:15 pm

    Lyle et al.,

    I guess what really bothers me is the teenagers ruining the game (although it’s also sad to see some of them ruining their lives). In baseball, they have minor leagues, which allow young players to develop and mature. In basketball and football, collegiate athletics serve that same function. Aside from the educational value that the athletes get out of college (which I think is often minimal), they learn how to play team ball. But in a system where coaches have to be deferential to their stars to keep them from jumping to the pros, the “team” part of team sports is falling apart, which in turn means the sport is dying as well. I’d like to think that a more team-focused mentality also would discourage professional athletes from acting like spoiled children of third-world dictators (hedonists who expect to live above the law), but there was bad behavior before there were high schoolers in the NBA. So I can’t really make that claim. I do feel comfortable saying that it’s destroying professional basketball as a sport and as a marketable product, though.

  24. lyle on May 14, 2004 at 8:52 pm

    Christine: Right…you didnt’ _explicitly_ mention force. However, it is the iron-force of the law that requires some athletes to play in college before going pro.

    My point was solely that no one should be required/forced to get a college degree before they start a given profession; whether doctors, lawyers, moms, sports players, etc.

  25. Kristine on May 14, 2004 at 9:49 pm

    *Doctors* shouldn’t go to college before starting their profession?? yikes! Remind me not to show up in a hospital where you’re in charge.

    And I neither “_explicitly_” nor implicitly suggested that there should be any law requiring anyone to go to college–where’s this “iron-force” talk coming from?

    Kristine with a K

  26. Frank McIntyre on May 14, 2004 at 10:20 pm

    In my public economics class, I have my students read an article about the sports facility shakedown, wherein sports teams attempt to extract resources from communities with the threat of leaving, which threat has weight only by careful use of league monopoly power. Here is the link but it may not work unless you’re on a campus network. For those of you interested, the evidence is reasonably compelling that sports facilities provide no net stimulus to the communities in which they reside.
    The studies provided by the sports teams to claim stimulus occurs are of exceptionally poor quality and badly biased.

    Julie,

    2 points–>
    1. I think education is causally important, though not vital, for mothers to have because it causally helps them to think critically and learn to learn and because it helps them pass those traits on to their children.

    2. I cannot _prove_ (1) by appealing to correlations known to be problematic—though the statistics may be indicative.

    Your original post states that the reason mothers should get an education is _because_ it “is directly correlated with” etc. etc. If there is no causal implication to the statement, it is meaningless. The only reason to mention correlations in statements of the form you use is because one believes there is a causal link. Try this one, “I believe that we should all eat ice cream, because eating ice cream is directly correlated with sunny days.” The correlation is robust, the causal inference is poor. The structure is identical to the one you used.

    I mention it not because of it being a particularly big deal. You may justifiably find this pedantic and redundant. Rather I mention it but because of my seizures. And because I fear that some gentle reader out there may make such statements yet honestly believe they aren’t making a causal statement, which they are.

  27. Frank McIntyre on May 14, 2004 at 10:44 pm

    Kristine,

    This is bizarre. Why are you responding to Lyle’s post telling him that you didn’t say anything about force? He’s clearly talking to Christine, not Kristine. So naturally you didn’t say those things. Christine did!

    This might seem confusing at first, since clearly no Christine has actually posted on this thread. But that’s a small oversight I can quickly fix.

  28. Christine on May 14, 2004 at 10:49 pm

    I say that all athletes should be forced to go to college. They should have to get advanced degrees and pass rigorous tests. No Athlete Left Behind!

    The same goes for doctors, lawyers, and moms. Especially moms! And especially doctors! And lawyers!

    I, Christine, say these things! And I really mean it!

  29. Logan on May 15, 2004 at 7:54 am

    I know no one is talking about this anymore, but Kaimi, your reasoning loses me. You seem to be saying that you are not impressed with Kobe’s excellent play while being on trial. You also say that he is not a hero because he has been charged with rape, and that he did, after all, bring it on himself.

    I don’t see the connection between the two statements. I think what Kobe did is despicable, and I certainly think he is anything but a hero. At the same time, I am greatly impressed by his ability to put it all out of his mind and perform at such a high level. Jason Whitlock mentions that he might be performing even better if he hadn’t put himself in this situation, which is true — we would expect him not to perform as well as he could were he not dealing with this. That’s why it’s an impressive basketball feat to perform like he is.

    The sports articles and commentators I hear generally try carefully to distinguish between being impressed by his basketball feats and calling him a hero. To the extent that they don’t make the distinction or that they just pay lip service to it, it’s wrong and stupid.

    But I think it is possible to make the distinction.

  30. Kaimi on May 17, 2004 at 12:20 pm

    Logan,

    I guess I’m just not convinced that praise is warranted for doing a good job in the middle of a self-created mess.

    What if I, as an attorney, mess a case up — say, I don’t make legal arguments that I should have at a certain stage, and waive those arguments — and then later, through extra work, end up winning the case at trial?

    Or if a student fails her classes, but then diligently makes up for this in summer school or by taking extra classes?

    Or if I am negligent and back the car up into the side of the house, but then, by frantic effort, manage to repair both the car and the house?

    Yes, there is something praiseworthy about making an effort and getting things done. I find it harder to praise that effort when it is necessary only because of one’s initial bad choices.

  31. Kingsley on May 17, 2004 at 12:42 pm

    Kaimi writes: “Yes, there is something praiseworthy about making an effort and getting things done. I find it harder to praise that effort when it is necessary only because of one’s initial bad choices.”

    Kingsley writes: Most Kobe Bryant commentary (at least during the games I’ve seen, i.e. all of them) is to the tune of “Boy this guy’s an incredible athlete, just think of having to travel all day before a crucial game,” etc. They have to say something about it—it’s the old elephant in the room problem—and so they focus on what seems to be morally neutral, his athleticism, his mental focus, etc., and oftentimes they explicitly follow it with, “Not to say he’s a hero for doing this,” and so forth. To sum up, the coverage (on TV) has been pretty well balanced so far.

    As far as not praising “effort [that’s] necessary only because of one’s initial bad choices” goes—golly. So if your kid knocks a baseball through the window and then spends the summer working it off he’s not to be commended for it? Repentance isn’t to be celebrated? No fatted calf for you! (Bad Seinfeld joke.)

  32. Logan on May 17, 2004 at 1:34 pm

    Well Kaimi, we may just disagree then. I do think it would be impressive if you could pull out a win in a case in which you initially slacked off. I wouldn’t recommend having that tactic as an initial plan, but if it happened, I think it would be impressive lawyering. If I knew that’s how you did things, I probably wouldn’t hire you, but I could still be impressed that you pulled it off the one time.

    I look at Kobe the same sort of way. I have serious doubts about his character and grave concerns about him as a basketball player overall. I think that’s what makes his stellar performance under these circumstances (self-created or not) so incredible.

    It’s very foolish and incompetent to shoot yourself in the foot, but if you can still win the gunfight — I’m impressed.

    Like I say, we may just disagree on this one (which is fine). But I think his status as “hero” and his ability to overcome negative circumstances are two different things.