In 2011, Los Angeles Lakers Shooting Guard, Kobe Bryant, best known to fans and teammates as “Black Mamba;” made a homophobic comment toward a referee to protest a call that he did not agree with. The exchange caught on camera and broadcast live on the air was met with a chuckle from the game’s commentators and an offhanded joke but otherwise ignored. Except by the only community whom it mattered.

One of NBA’s biggest stars could not escape the criticism from the LGBTQI community for his seemingly offhanded comment and dismissive apology.

Bryant could have apologized and moved on. Instead, he chose to learn from this experience and take action to show that he was serious. Several LGBTQI organizations, including GLAAD reached out to him after the fact and offered their services to help Kobe and the greater professional basketball community to learn about how such homophobic comments can impact LGBTQI people. It first started with a video message from Kobe to his fans, shared with the help of GLAAD.

He has been outspoken and called out people in the NBA, including fans, for using gay slurs.

And he was a public and outspoken advocate for Jason Collins when he came out in 2013 as the first openly gay NBA player.

When Kobe, his daughter Gianna and seven other people perished in a helicopter crash this last weekend; the news came as a shock. As people are processing the news and mourning the loss of nine people, any and every news organization is publishing their own take on Bryant’s legacy. Most of them talking about his illustrious basketball career, Olympic gold medals, Academy Award for his short film Dear Basketball, his 2003 rape case. In our case, and that of many LGBTQI news organizations, his evolution on LGBTQI rights.

In our increasingly polarized and hostile society, we often forget that people grow and evolve as time goes on. Kobe Bryant certainly is one of the most recognizable people to show us that we’re all human, we make mistakes and most importantly, that we learn from those mistakes. Bryant’s homophobic comment angered a lot of people in the LGBTQI community, many of whom were not impressed with his follow up actions to mend it.

To be a successful athlete, especially at Bryant’s level, you have to approach every aspect of your life as an opportunity to learn. Bryant embodied this in the best way possible, he showed that he was willing to understand how his behavior made other people feel. Instead of talking about doing better, he simply did better. Now that we look back on this legacy retrospectively, we understand what kind of impact that truly has. Champions don’t try to convince anybody of what they are doing, they let their actions speak for themselves. You don’t need to be an athlete to have the attitude of a champion.

By Dirk Smith

Photo: By Michael Wa –, CC BY-SA 2.5,