Parishioners at Kobe Bryant’s local church in Newport Beach, California said he was a regular part of their parish community. Bryant, his wife, and children are reported to be regular parishioners at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, Newport Beach. But that was not the case before 2003 when he found himself in deep trouble, with the possibility of being sent to jail for a long time. That was the turning point in Bryant’s life as he turned to God with a desperate cry for help.
Inseparable: Both daughter and father enjoyed playing together and travelling to watch basketball games.
In 2003, Bryant was accused by a woman of rape. As a result, his career and personal life hit an all-time low. He faced criminal charges, and sponsors and some business partners did not want anything to do with him at the time. As if that was not enough trouble, his wife Vanessa filed for divorce. That was both a sad moment as well as a turning point in his life.
During that difficult time, Bryant knew he had to turn to God. He went to a church to see a Pastor. The man-of-the-cloth asked him to tell the truth about the incident and gave him a few words of encouragement. Afterwards, Bryant admitted that he had sex with the woman, but denied rape. The court judge dropped the charges against him, but the woman still filed a civil lawsuit against him. Bryant issued an apology to his accuser, with whom he also reached a settlement out of court.
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognise now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter,” Bryant said in his 2004 apology.
Bryant credited his faith with helping him move past his mistakes, and challenging period in his life and the life of his family.
In 2015, he told GQ that after the matter was resolved, he decided to shed some superficiality he felt he had built up in his public persona. He decided that his public image is not real, and would get him into more trouble. He had to be real. He had to be himself.
Kobe Bryant during his tenure at the LA Lakers
“What I came to understand, coming out of Colorado, is that I had to be me, in the place where I was at that moment.”
Bryant said it was a pastor who helped him to make some critical personal realisations during the ordeal.
Describing his fear of being sent to prison for a crime he believed he had not committed, he said, “The one thing that really helped me during that process was talking to a priest. It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ‘Did you do it?’ And I say, ‘Of course not.’ Then he asks, ‘Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So, then he just said, ‘Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So, let it go.’ And that was the turning point.”
Bryant took the pastor’s advice to heart and sought to live his life better since then. He became more interested in his family.
Although his wife filed for a divorce, Bryant said he did not give up on his marriage. Eventually, after two years, his wife withdrew her divorce petition. He and his wife got back together and they started their joint project called the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation (KVBFF), which encourages young kids to develop their physical and social skills through sports and charity work.
Bryant said that everybody deserves a second chance and a little lift every now and then. “Well, you made that bad decision. This is where you are. It’s your fault. In life, we all make mistakes and to stand back and allow someone to live that way and kind of wash your hands of it… that’s not right,” he said.
Singer and Actress Cristina Ballestero posted an Instagram message on 26 January about her encounter with Bryant at Holy Family Cathedral Church in Orange, California. She said, “As we went up to communion, [Bryant] waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice.”
“His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision,” Ballestero added.
Basketball lovers all over the world are devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, both with seven other people tragically passed away in a helicopter crash on Sunday 26 January. Kobe Bryant is being remembered as “one of the most extraordinary players” in the history of basketball who “inspired people around the world” to play the game.
The 41-year-old, who retired in 2016 after a successful 20-year career with the LA Lakers, was a five-time NBA champion and was named an NBA All-Star 18 times.