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Kobe Bryant needs to play basketball as much as he needs air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat.
He should play.
Bryant has been accused of a heinous crime, and his former status of golden boy makes it even harder to stomach. But no one knows what happened in that hotel room—and he doesn’t need our approval to get to play basketball.
This is America, land that we love. This is America, a country built on ideals of truth and justice. This is America, where you are innocent until proven guilty.
At this moment, Bryant is innocent because he hasn’t been proven guilty. Playing basketball isn’t a question of if he did it—it isn’t even a question. He has every right to attempt achieving normalcy during this time of upheaval.
David Stern, the commissioner of basketball, said he should play. Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson said so. His teammates said so.
What else do you want the man to do? Sit on his butt at home? In addition to robbing his team of his considerable talents, not playing would probably hinder Bryant’s case. Rumors and speculation would abound about Bryant in hiding, shameful of his crime and shamed by the public.
He needs to put on a show so he has the chance of vindication in the end. That’s why he made an appearance at the ESPY’s days after the news broke and showed up at the Teen Choice Awards with Vanessa in tow, sporting that rock on her finger. That’s why he sat for over 60 questions the first time he faced the media after rejoining the Lakers.
That’s why he should play.
As for the potential distraction to his teammates, they’ve all dealt with the media before. Granted, this accusation is on a whole different level from the pesky Shaq-Kobe spats that crop up without fail every year, including this year’s installment. But if any team is prepared to deal with the media circus, it is the L.A. Lakers.
In the more pragmatic point of view, Bryant also has a lot of money riding on this season. The pressure to perform is already considerable when you’re planning on testing the free agent market next year, as he is.
But when you have surgery in the off-season, arrive at preseason camp in less than stellar shape and drop $4 million on a ring, you need to play to get paid.
Bryant needs to show everyone that he can still dominate despite the distractions. A strong season might even raise his stock come this time next year.
He has already lost over $40 million in endorsement deals, and he cannot afford to sit out a year and then try to make a comeback. For all we know about his contract, the Lakers could fine him, penalize him or not pay him at all if he doesn’t play. Sure, the man is loaded, but he is also 25 years old. He’s got a whole lot of life ahead of him.
Just what form his life takes is a separate issue. For now, he is right to play the game that he loves. Basketball is Bryant’s job, his livelihood.
And Lord knows, he might not be playing for a long while after the trial is done.
Picture it now—Kobe Bryant playing pick-up games in the courtyard with Slasher and the Prison Patrol.
He needs basketball right now. He should play.
—Staff writer Brenda E. Lee can be reached at email@example.com.
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