Condi & Kobe: Kindred spirits

BY GARRY GRUNDY

PRESEASON NBA IS back but Kobe isn’t. I’ve never liked Kobe Bryant anyway. The way he walks; the way he talks; the way he licks his lips; scores 30 points a night – there’s nothing I like about him.

Truth be told, Dr. Condoleezza Rice is not much of a Lakers fan either. While Rice was Provost of Stanford University, I had supper with the distinguished Lady, and basketball was the center of conversation.

“The Suns!” she laughed mockingly. “They’re done! My team is the San Antonio Spurs.” Crossing her legs and looking me dead in the eyes, she took on a more empathetic tone: “David Robinson. Sean Elliott. You’ve gotta’ love ’em. They’re overdue for a championship. By the time your team rebuilds, you’ll be up against the hot new thing – or one of these high school players.”

Did Dr. Rice foretell the coming of Kobe back in 1994?

It would make sense: Rice is one of the greatest minds of our generation and Kobe one of the greatest athletes. To call Kobe and Condi kindred spirits is an understatement.

Both Rice and Bryant come from strong black family backgrounds. Kobe’s rise to basketball stardom was unlike that of his peers – Kobe’s story reads more like an episode of “The Cosby Show” than “Hoop Dreams.” The son of NBA star Joe “Jellybean” Bryant (Clippers, 76ers), Kobe’s father and the family traveled between Italy and Philadelphia to support Joe’s basketball career and nurture Kobe’s fledgling career. While in high school, Kobe performed well in both academics and athletics, shattering old state records (Wilt Chamberlain’s) and boasting grades, Italian language fluency and an SAT score that attracted the likes of Duke, NC and Stanford. At 18 years old, Kobe would become the youngest starter in the history of the NBA.

Like Kobe, Condi had both parents vested in her long-term success. A Birmingham minister, Condi’s father insulated his daughter from the horrors of the Jim Crow South with a pedigree of world-class proportion: Condoleezza was discouraged from getting too actively involved in the civil rights struggle for her own protection (the Rice family was clearly influenced by the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in town). Condi’s parents pushed her toward classical piano, figure skating, ballet and French. Having entered college at 15, by the age of 26 Dr. Rice was one of the youngest assistant professors at Stanford University.

For many African-Americans, Kobe Bryant and Condoleezza Rice represent the results of good parenting, hard work and God-given gifts. But as of late, both Kobe and Condi have become the most scrutinized African-Americans in the country and the primary issue of contention is one of trust.

Does America believe in Condi or Kobe anymore?

Though Wolfowitz and Cheney have been drumming up the case for war since 1991, it was Dr. Rice who was forced onto the grenade for President Bush’s State of the Union “misstatements.” Even more troubling, the battered Rice continues to be faithful to an administration that has shown her half-hearted appreciation and has done even less to defend her significant contributions to the Bush Team.

The Lakers are taking a similar approach to Kobe.

And white America is getting in on the act: Hate letters have been pouring into the Eagle Co. District Attorney and the judge presiding over the case. One unsigned letter speculated that Kobe, “. . . would get away with it (like O.J. Simpson) because…ALL black people are LIARS.”

The weekend political spin from both sides has skewered Rice for being equally disingenuous and unforthcoming. How does America let Dick Cheney have it both ways as Halliburton stakeholder and America’s #2 – while Rice is made a casualty of America’s inattention?

Given the scope of these double-standards in play and Kobe’s newly documented pattern for sexual misconduct, it seems only a run for the governorship of California can repair Kobe’s name – giving Arnold something new to grapple on/with…

You lie down with dogs, you come up with fleas.

Condi and Kobe are guilty of investing and aligning their priorities with shady characters. The consequences have been potentially devastating for both meteoric careers.

But moving forward, I’ll take Shaq’s hint and “wait until the evidence and the judicial process has been completed” before I can truly judge either team situation.

In the meantime – let’s go Suns!

Garry Grundy’s column appears biweekly.

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