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Television

HBO’s ‘Real Sports’ grapples with Kobe Bryant’s complex legacy

Kobe Bryant
HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” airs a special segment Tuesday on Kobe Bryant, weaving together prior interviews with the late Lakers star.
(HBO Sports)

Kobe Bryant’s greatness as a basketball player is unquestioned. But he was also known for his prickly personality and his villainous on-court demeanor as the self-named Black Mamba.

Those aspects of Bryant’s complicated nature are recalled in Tuesday’s installment of HBO’s sports magazine “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel.”

The “Real Sports” segment focuses on two profiles the series conducted with Bryant, who died Sunday, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others, in a helicopter crash in Calabasas. The first piece, from 2000, finds the player discussing his early motivations to become great, including being inspired by the success of his father, pro basketball player Joseph Bryant.

The second profile, conducted in 2016, probes more deeply into Bryant’s determination to use the game as a way of “venting,” becoming “a warrior.” Former coach Phil Jackson described his irritation with Bryant’s selfishness with other players, detailing one game where Bryant showed off in front of retired legend Michael Jordan.

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Bryant also discussed how being charged with sexual assault in 2003 affected him, leading him to adopt a sour and sinister persona while embracing the hostility from road-game crowds. He christened himself the Black Mamba, a name he got from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill Vol. 2.” (The sexual assault charge was dropped after an out-of-court settlement.)

Being cheered during his retirement tour by those same crowds that had previously booed him made him initially awkward: “I’ve always been comfortable in the dark corners.” He also described his post-retirement move into creative endeavors such as filmmaking.

The episode arrives as many in the media grapple with how to talk about the less laudable aspects of Bryant’s legacy. The Washington Post placed a reporter on administrative leave after she tweeted a link to a story about 2003 rape allegations against Bryant in the hours following his death, and Times columnists Bill Plaschke and Dylan Hernández have both acknowledged his shortcomings. (The writer for the Post was cleared to return to work Tuesday after an internal review.)

Reporter Andrea Kremer later talks with Gumbel about a part of the profile in which Bryant discussed commuting from his Orange County home to Los Angeles games by helicopter. He said that it enabled him to attend his daughters’ games and practices: “Traveling by helicopter became a huge part of his life.”

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HBO also posted to YouTube a video clip from Bryant’s interview with Kremer that did not make it into the final cut of the episode. In the clip, Bryant discusses a bedtime story he used to tell Gianna to encourage her athletic ambition, which at the time was to become a gymnast. Watch the clip below:


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