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Painful memories of Kobe Bryant linger in Vail Valley

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January 26, 2020, 3:18 pm

Kobe Bryant, who died way too soon Sunday with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a horrific helicopter crash in Los Angeles, will be remembered very differently in the Vail Valley than the rest of the nation.

Kobe Bryant

Bryant, 41, was a five-time National Basketball Association champion and transcendent star for the Los Angeles Lakers who retired in 2016 as the third-highest scorer in NBA history. On Saturday he was in attendance in Philadelphia when he was surpassed on that list by LeBron James.

Bryant’s all-time basketball greatness will never be questioned, including the second highest-scoring single game in league history (81 points in 2006).

But in 2003 at the Lodge and Spa in Cordillera near Edwards, Colorado (about 15 miles west of Vail), Bryant – who was staying there for knee surgery at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Vail — made a terrible decision that led to his arrest on charges of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old Eagle woman who worked at the hotel.

That woman never testified against Bryant in the criminal case, which was subsequently dropped, but Bryant apologized to her as part of her civil suit settlement. He said he thought their sex was consensual but was sorry if she thought it was not.

During an interview with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Department, Bryant threw his teammate, Shaquille O’Neal, under the bus by discussing the star center’s alleged extramarital affairs and cash payoffs to partners to keep them quiet – an allegation O’Neal rejected.

As a longtime local journalist, the Bryant case landed me on ESPN and in The New York Times for the first time. It also cost local taxpayers nearly a quarter million dollars for what was billed at the “Pretrial of the Century.”

I blasted Bryant for his lack of judgment and overall philandering ways (if not something worse) six years after the incident when his Lakers returned to take on the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs, and more recently questioned his Oscar win during the #MeToo Academy Awards.

The accolades for Bryant have already started pouring out – and in many ways rightfully so as he seemed to learn from his mistake, rehabilitated his reputation and was a devoted husband and father. But in the Vail Valley, there will always be the bitter memories of the summer of 2003.

It was a time of brutal recriminations that exposed the racial divide in an otherwise peaceful resort valley, and it brought all the wrong kinds of publicity.

Perhaps the late Vail founder Dick Hauserman said it best in a New York Times story in which I was also quoted:

“This has cast a pall over the valley,” he said. “It’s such an unfortunate experience.”

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

21 Responses to Painful memories of Kobe Bryant linger in Vail Valley

  1. Anna Reply

    January 26, 2020 at 6:27 pm

    Dear Mr. David,
    I am so sorry that on the day this amazing basketball player you decided to talk about the worst thing that happened in his life. Instead of talking about his greatness and what he brought to the basketball as a community, for the amazing things he did to help young kids around him, for all the amazing things that he did for his kids or even how amazing GiGi was as a student and a basketball player, you decided ti go so low and trash a name of the dead person. I am so ashamed that the community in which I live would do this for any person that has died. Especially for Kobe that died in such a tragic manner with his daughter. Did you think for one second about his wife? Did you think about all the pain she is going through without the memory of this terrible incident? Did you think about his remaining three daughters?
    I am as a wife and a mother so sad to see that you as a reporter would go so low and decide to write something like this on the same exact day that he died.
    You should be ashamed of yourself!

  2. David O. Williams Reply

    January 26, 2020 at 7:47 pm

    Anna, I was thinking about all the mothers, wives and daughters in the world when I wrote about this tragic chapter in the history of this valley. As great a basketball player as Kobe was, he never came back to this place and addressed the terrible decision he made and the pain he put one local young woman through — not to mention the entire county that summer. I’ve tried to teach my three sons how to respect women, and at that time in his life, it’s not clear to me that Kobe had learned any of those same lessons. I mourn for him and his family today, but his legacy needs to be put in proper perspective — at least in this part of Colorado. #RIPMamba

    • Anna Reply

      January 26, 2020 at 11:56 pm

      Mr Williams, I am so happy that you are teaching your sons how to treat women and how to behavr properly. I am also sure that neither one of us was in that room when the alleged attack happened. But that is not the point of my talk. The point is that you decided to trash talk someone the same day he died alongside with his teenage daughter in the utmost tragic way. This article should have waited a day, a week, even a month and it still wouldn’t be ok but at least it would allow some healing time. This way, you are trash talking a dead person. No matter if that is Kobe or any other guy in this world, he is also a human being. Put it from that perspective. I was always thought that we should always speak the best about the dead, no matter how bad their sins where. If nothing else, for the sake of his kids.

      • Maigan Reply

        January 27, 2020 at 3:49 pm

        Thank you Anna. I was thinking the same thing.
        To bemoan something that happened 17 years ago regarding someone who has just tragically passed is distasteful.

  3. Cliff Reply

    January 26, 2020 at 11:18 pm

    This article is total an attack on a great man. Kobe Bryant has done more good for the world then you could ever possibly could do. You are living up to the stereo type of always trying to take down the black man. Even in death you are chomping at the bit to throw mud on his name. Where was this energy when he was alive. You chose a real coward way express your self. The Mamba might not be here defend his name but I am.

  4. Cliff Reply

    January 26, 2020 at 11:28 pm

    Your living up to stereo type always trying to take down the black man. Even in death that a cowardly move you just done. Were was this energy when the Mamba was alive. You wait until he is dead and can’t defend him self. Coward approach. But I will defend the Mamba.

  5. Robert S Reply

    January 27, 2020 at 7:41 am

    Ok, let’s get this straight. One of the most iconic players of our generation passes on and this is your FIRST response? It wasn’t enough that you chose to blast him again six years after the fact, but now feel the need to disrespect the dead like this. And for what because Kobe hasn’t personally come back and humbled himself before you ? Your privilege is showing. His apology letter and in person apology only mattered to one person. I’m sorry that you having to come out of your comfort zone has left here still petty in 2020.
    Again, your article was published at 3pm the day the man died. Clearly this is something you can’t seem to get past and it’s despicable that you try to white knight for and hide behind wives, mothers, and daughters. Allow me to walk around you as a resident of Eagle county and enter the gate as you sit outside and guard it .

  6. David O. Williams Reply

    January 27, 2020 at 8:36 am

    Perhaps I went there too quickly but if you do a search of social media and mainstream media in Colorado and in fact around the country, you’ll find at least a mention of 2003, with some media outlets exploring these issues in much greater depth. That year will always define Kobe’s legacy in this part of the country. Kobe didn’t owe me anything or the people of Eagle County, but he owed it to women in the #MeToo Era to address the issues of power, wealth and privilege as they relate to sexual assault. Hopefully, he spoke to his own daughters about how they should handle a situation like the one he put himself and an Eagle teenager in on that fateful evening in 2003. As for this being an issue of tearing down a prominent black man, I have been equally critical of prominent white men who use their position and power to force themselves on women — people like President Donald Trump: http://www.realvail.com/donald-trump-video-should-lead-to-total-gop-rejection-of-candidacy/a3486/

  7. Mom of a survivor Reply

    January 27, 2020 at 8:36 am

    Thank you for addressing this. It’s heartbreaking that so many lives were lost in the helicopter crash, but there are also many sexual assault victims who are triggered by Kobe Bryant and the attention he has received after assaulting a woman. I understand how some people think the bad shouldn’t be brought up when someone dies, but sexual assault victims also deserve respect and they can never forget their assault. Thank you for writing about Kobe’s sexual assault and not ignoring it. It’s an important part of who he was and it should never be forgotten.

    • Linda Reply

      January 27, 2020 at 6:56 pm

      While I grieve for all the lives lost, I can’t deny how this tragedy will undoubtedly bring unwanted memories back to many assault victims. Especially for those of us who were raped and our perpetrators never brought to justice. I also happened to have lived in the Vail Valley during 2003. The cities that make up the valley are small, close knit communities -with the exception of the ebb and flow of vacationers. The entire situation affected the area greatly. I can appreciate that no one is all good, or all bad. I just think there is never any harm in speaking the truth. It’s always time to speak the truth.

  8. Rob Reply

    January 27, 2020 at 9:31 am

    David – I don’t think you went there too quickly. I think the pedestals need to come down in cases like this. The physical evidence surrounding the rape allegations were overwhelming. His celebrity status, the money backing him and blind public support for sports figures contributed to the victim being marginalized and once again rape allegations focusing on the woman. To ignore this issue does a disservice to far more people than his fans. So thank you for having the courage of your convictions as the journalist I know you to be.

  9. Hadley Brewer Taylor Reply

    January 27, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    Good job. Thanks for addressing what many who are familiar with this bit of history have said.

  10. Scott Reply

    January 27, 2020 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks for having the fortitude to write about this. You can remember Kobe however you please. That’s what makes America great again (#MAGA).

    Here’s how I remember Kobe. He raped a woman and bought his way out of his crime by 1) vilifying, humiliating, and attacking her (partially through is own behavior and partially through his lawyer, among other modalities) and 2) paying her a settlement. The numerous death threats that “fans” of Kobe lobbed at her definitely played a role, too. Also, let’s keep in mind that all the while, Kobe was MARRIED. Ok, so he issued a gracious statement about how he and the victim had a misunderstanding. That does not make up for his avoided prison sentence.

    So there you have it, Kobe Bryant: rapist. Yet one who could play basketball with skill. On yeah, and he was competitive. Whoop dee fucking doo – these attributes do not absolve Kobe of rape. The karmic crater Kobe left in America is far more negative than positive. And yet we wonder why sexual assaults often go unreported? Puh-lease.

    The critics commenting here are simply attacking the messenger. How juvenile. Instead, they should be attacking Kobe’s reprehensible behavior.

    • Anna Reply

      January 28, 2020 at 12:19 am

      Mr Scott while mentioning MAGA, do you also agree with the statement of the person that stands by that phrase and that says that all of us “should be grabbed by the pus*y” or that is just for the “other” part of this nation? Cuz somehow that statement has nothing to do with this story at all and as an immigrant women that found happiness in this country I find it absurd that you even went there… shame on you.

  11. Cliff Reply

    January 28, 2020 at 7:39 am

    I expect to see this same energy with big Ben. How come yall silent on him now my

  12. David O. Williams Reply

    January 28, 2020 at 8:17 am

    Big Ben has no Vail Valley or Colorado connection, but here’s what I wrote about Peyton Manning when 20-year-old allegations of sexual assault surfaced after he won a championship for Denver: http://www.rockymountainpost.com/how-peyton-manning-can-repair-his-image-after-old-sexual-assault-allegation-resurfaces/

    And here’s what I wrote about Tom Brady and his refusal to condemn President Donald Trump for his statements about sexual assault (a national shame in that Trump still won the 2016 election over a highly qualified female candidate): https://www.realvail.com/tom-brady-should-have-spoken-out-on-sexual-assault-donald-trump/a3511/

    And you’re right, when Ben Roethlisberger dies, his past deserves to be fully explored.

  13. Cliff Reply

    January 28, 2020 at 8:47 am

    Why wait until he passes that a weak move

  14. Cliff Reply

    January 28, 2020 at 8:49 am

    How about you just not talk about people who can’t defend themselvesHi

  15. Cliff Reply

    January 28, 2020 at 8:52 am

    I hope you get suspended like the woman from the wasgton post I made sure to share ur article with the real Media

  16. David O. Williams Reply

    January 28, 2020 at 8:55 am

    I wrote about all of this when Kobe was alive. Ditto Trump, Brady and Manning, so none of your points are valid.

  17. David O. Williams Reply

    January 29, 2020 at 9:59 am

    The Washington Post was wrong to suspend Felicia Sonmez:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/01/27/posts-misguided-suspension-felicia-sonmez-over-kobe-bryant-tweets/

    And these stories all go to my point that Bryant could have done much more to address and help change the rape culture in sports that’s written off, even by our president, as locker room behavior. Bryant owed it to his alleged victim and his four daughters, not to Eagle County, which has moved on but clearly remains divided and scarred over the basketball legend’s legacy:

    https://www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/28586207/now-right-remember-kobe-bryant-life-all-it

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/kobe-bryant-sex-assault-allegations-1.5442027

    https://www.vox.com/2020/1/28/21105526/kobe-bryant-death-sexual-assault-case-2003

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