NBA icon Charles Barkley has fuelled the debate over Kobe Bryant, arguing that the sexual assault accusation against the LA Lakers star is inextricable from his legacy.
The Hall of Famer and basketball commentator made the controversial comments during an interview on NBC’s Today program on Friday alongside fellow NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson.
“Kobe Bryant was one of the greatest basketball players ever, and he had a flaw that we all know about,” Barkley said, referring to rape accusations made against Bryant by a Colorado hotel worker in 2003.
“You have to tell the picture in totality,” he continued.
Barkley said the mark on Kobe’s record doesn’t take away from his excellence as an athlete, mentor and icon.
“We're not making Kobe out to be no hero. We're celebrating his basketball excellence,” he said. “We understand what happened in Colorado. That's fair, but two things can be true.”
Kobe admitted to being unfaithful to his wife Vanessa but always maintained the encounter with the hotel worker was consensual. He settled out-of-court with the woman for an undisclosed sum.
Kobe and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna both died last month when the chopper carrying them and seven others went down on January 26 in the California city of Calabasas, killing all on board.
He is survived by his wife of 19 years, Vanessa and his three other daughters; Natalia, 17, Bianka, three, and Capri, seven months.
Father and daughter were laid to rest at the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles on February 7.
A public memorial for Bryant and the eight other victims is scheduled for Feb. 24 at the Staples Center, where the Lakers play.
The old rape accusations against Kobe have been making headlines again after TV host Gayle King asked basketball legend and Kobe’s close friend Lisa Leslie about the 2003 sexual assault case days after his death.
King has been heavily criticized over the interview, with Snoop Dogg and OJ Simpson among the most high-profile detractors.
King was somewhat apologetic in a video posted to social media, but mostly shifted the blame to CBS, saying the network “heavily edited” the moment.
“I’ve been up reading the comments about the interview I did with Lisa Leslie about Kobe Bryant, and I know that if I had only seen the clip that you saw, I’d be extremely angry with me too,” she said in the Instagram post.
"Unbeknownst to me, my network put up a clip from a very wide-ranging interview – totally taken out of context — and when you see it that way, it’s very jarring. It’s jarring to me. I didn’t even know anything about it," she added.
“I am mortified. I am embarrassed and I am very angry."
On Thursday Snoop Dogg apologized for unleashing a foul-mouthed tirade at King online over the interview, and the CBS TV personality released another apologetic statement in response.
“I accept the apology and understand the raw emotions caused by this tragic loss,” the newswoman said in a statement obtained by a reporter from New York Magazine.
“I’m deeply sorry that questions I asked added to that pain. That was never my intention.
“As a journalist, it is sometimes challenging to balance doing my job with the emotions and feelings during difficult times.
“I don’t always get it perfect but I’m constantly striving to do it with compassion and integrity,” she concluded.
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