- Jason Whitlock, ESPN Senior Writer
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When assessing Kobe Bryant's latest hey-look-at-me ploy for mainstream acceptance and popularity, facts matter.
If you remove contextual facts, Kobe's condescending lecture to African-Americans and the Miami Heat regarding the Trayvon Martin case sounds like promotion of Dr. Martin Luther King's dream. Once you add facts, Kobe sounds like he's promoting Rush Limbaugh's opening monologue.
When asked by a reporter from The New Yorker about the Heat's hoodie photo in support of Martin, the 17-year-old boy who was killed by an overzealous neighborhood watch captain, Bryant said a mouthful.
"I won't react to something just because I'm supposed to, because I'm an African-American," says Bryant in the March 31 issue. "That argument doesn't make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we've progressed as a society? Well, we've progressed as a society, then don't jump to somebody's defense just because they're African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won't assert myself."
Let's examine the contextual facts.
The Heat took their photo before the state of Florida arrested and filed charges against George Zimmerman and when some high-profile people in the media (Geraldo Rivera) were arguing that wearing a hoodie made Martin suspicious. At the time, many people, particularly African-Americans, were upset that it appeared Zimmerman would go free before there was a proper investigation, let alone before a jury heard the case.
The brilliance of the Heat's hoodie photo is that, like any good picture, it spoke a thousand words. The picture screamed: Zimmerman better have a better excuse than a kid was wearing a hoodie and it was dark outside.
African-Americans are justifiably suspicious of the police and the criminal justice system. When an unarmed 17-year-old black boy is killed by a volunteer watchman with Zimmerman's checkered history, it is perfectly logical for African-Americans to demand that the authorities go above and beyond to be fair.
The Heat did not demand a conviction. The Heat did not make any collective formal comments during or after the Zimmerman trial. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat reside in Florida, where the controversial "stand your ground" law is being used to justify the use of deadly force. Trayvon Martin was Floridian and a Heat fan, and he was killed in Florida.
Kobe Bryant lives in Orange County, Calif. The son of an NBA player, Bryant grew up in Italy. He attended a highly regarded public high school in an affluent suburb of Philadelphia and then waltzed into the secluded, pampered world of the NBA.
Perhaps it should not be all that surprising that Bryant can't relate to Martin or the actions of people such as James and Wade, who can relate to Martin's plight. Martin, James and Wade grew up in a similar fashion.
Kobe appears to have more in common with Limbaugh. Maybe that explains Kobe's disingenuous appeal for colorblindness when the Martin case clearly called for fair-minded people regardless of color to factor in America's complicated racial history.
Many African-Americans were disappointed by the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. But many of us were objective enough to realize the jury reached the logical verdict given the prosecution's execution of the case. There are also many of us who do not participate in groupthink and don't rush to support any and every "black" cause. I'm often publicly criticized for straying off course on many high-profile topics revolving around race (Google Duke lacrosse, Jena Six, Don Imus, NBA All-Star Weekend Las Vegas).
Funny thing is, I have no recollection of Bryant saying a word about anything racial or controversial until now. A cynic might argue Kobe didn't start perverting Dr. King's dream for the approval of Limbaugh & Co. until injuries deteriorated his NBA fame.
James is at the peak of his career and fame. He took a courageous stand on a hot-button topic two years ago at age 27 seemingly without the approval of Nike or the Heat. James used his platform for the benefit of Martin and Martin's family when he had something to lose.
Again, a cynic might accuse Kobe of trolling for relevance and popularity. It's difficult to discern what he truly believes about any of this. He's taken just about every position.
When the backlash for his New Yorker comments first started rolling in, Bryant retweeted a Frederick Douglass quote he posted on Instagram two days after Zimmerman was acquitted. The Instagram post appeared to be supportive of Martin.
Bryant also tweeted that Martin was "wronged." Martin's defenders believe he was "murdered." I believe Shaquille O'Neal was "wronged" by Kobe. But let's not get caught up in a single word.
On Friday, Bryant covered himself by playing the "colorblind" card.
"One more time for the tweeting impaired, this is NOT about legal debate or sides. It's about equality on ALL fronts #colorblind #genderblind," he tweeted.
Kobe, I guess, is a feminist now too. Got it.
Finally, and perhaps as a last resort, via Twitter, Kobe credited his condescending, disingenuous ignorance for creating "conversation" about a big issue.
This is the equivalent of screaming "fire" in a crowded theater and taking credit for motivating moviegoers to exercise.
Kobe, call Jim Brown. It's not too late to authentically connect with people who love you.
3dEthan Sherwood Strauss
4dMatt Walks, ESPN.com