Opinions are divided on Kobe Bryant's legacy.
Opinions are divided on Kobe Bryant's legacy.

Kobe Bryant was no rapist. Period

SO MANY people who don't know what they're talking about have been mewling lately about the "tarnished legacy'' of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, who died tragically in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other people on January 26.

Leading the pack was CBS broadcaster Gayle King, who pointedly asked former women's basketball player Lisa Leslie in an interview if being loyal to Bryant was "complicated for you as a woman, as a WNBA player?"

Leslie told King forcefully that it was not.

"I just never, have ever seen him being the kind of person that would do something to violate a woman or be aggressive in that way,'' she said.

But King pressed on, suggesting that Leslie may have overlooked questionable behaviour because she was Bryant's friend. She should have let it go.

Instead, King and others in the media continued harping on a long-ago sexual assault allegation against Bryant, which led to no prosecution, no professional penalty and no divorce.

I attended the case's 2003 preliminary hearing in Eagle, Colorado - a kind of mini-trial to determine if there was to be a real one.

Kobe speaking to the media.
Kobe speaking to the media.

I travelled to the altitude sickness-inducing town 6000 feet above sea level expecting to see Bryant presented as a spoiled testosterone case who didn't understand the meaning of "no".

What I found was quite different.

It makes little sense to re-litigate this ugly chapter, but circumstances are making this necessary. At the time she encountered Bryant in the hotel in which she worked, on June 30, 2003, the accuser was 19. Bryant was all of 23, and the married father of an infant.

Soon, we learned more details about the pair's sexual liaison than we wanted to know. The defence brought up the fact that the accuser had told a friend, excitedly, before getting close to Bryant that she expected the celeb to "put the moves" on her.

She secretly entered Bryant's hotel room through a back door - so no one would see.

None of this precludes the possibility of sexual assault. However, among the intimate details to emerge in the preliminary hearing was this: once the pair were having sex - over the back of a chair - the victim felt pain and asked Bryant to stop. And he did.

Kobe Bryant entering court at the Justice Center for a pre-trial motions hearing.
Kobe Bryant entering court at the Justice Center for a pre-trial motions hearing.

I don't know what happened to make the young woman suddenly feel like a victim. Or why, after the case was prepared, she abruptly ended her co-operation with the prosecution. The criminal case against Kobe Bryant was dropped.

He then publicly apologised to the accuser. Not for a rape, but for a misunderstanding.

He concluded with, "Although I truly believe this encounter was consensual, I recognise now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did … I now understand she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."

I think the hoops star's apology amounted to a classy way to end this mess. That, and the undisclosed sum he paid the woman to prevent a civil suit.

As I see it, this matter was between Bryant and his wife. And she forgave him (reportedly after he presented her with a large diamond).

They remained married and had three more daughters, including basketball-loving Gianna - Gigi - who died with her dad.

I would hope we could put this sordid chapter behind us, and remember Kobe Bryant as the good, loyal man he was.

Let the dead rest in peace.

This article originally appeared on the NY Post and was reproduced with permission.