Tramel: Go ahead and change the 50-year-old NBA logo from Jerry West, just don't make it Kobe Bryant
Kyrie Irving wants the NBA to change the league’s logo from a silhouette of Jerry West to a silhouette of Kobe Bryant. And Irving is not alone.
A change.org petition in support of the switch has attracted more than 3.2 million signatures since Kobe’s death in a helicopter crash 13 months ago.
I have no problem with the NBA updating the logo. It’s been a good logo. The vertical image of a player, never officially proclaimed but obviously West, dribbling with his left hand, was selected way back in 1969 and has served the league well.
It’s sleek. It’s stylish. It’s functional.
It’s also 51 years old, and makeovers are a part of life. Uniforms, court designs, divisional and conference alignments. Nothing stays the same in professional sports, and an updated logo would be apropos, especially with a different model. Black stars have built the NBA into the business juggernaut and worldwide phenom that it is, so it seems only natural that an image based off an African-American icon would be used this time.
But not Kobe.
Kobe was idolized by fans and colleagues alike, in a way that is different from other superstars. Among players, Michael Jordan was feared, LeBron is respected, but Kobe was revered. And that reverence turned to adoration in the wake of his death.
And Kobe indeed possessed an uncommon charm. Even with the press corps from little ol’ OKC, Kobe was gracious and forthcoming. Chatting almost daily with the mature Kobe, Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol during those Thunder-Laker playoff series from a decade ago was eye-opening for us NBA novices.
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But the Kobe worship misses the mark and ignites a warning. The Kobe worship is a cautionary tale of athletes’ selective involvement with social justice. Athletes, of all colors, are quick to join the parade against systemic racism. As they should and we all should. Athletes are not so quick to rally around, or even acknowledge, the culture of violence against women.
Both are social justice issues.
But when athletes are involved in domestic abuse or sexual assault cases, it’s often crickets from their colleagues in the perspiring arts. We heard little from NFL players after the Seahawks’ Chad Wheeler was arrested for dangerously assaulting his girlfriend in January. The Sooners were all over the protests after the racist chant with the SAE fraternity in 2015 but were quite mum about the Joe Mixon assault on Campus Corner.
And I get it. A code exists. You stick by your teammate, and to a lesser extent, you stick by even your opponents except on the field of play.
But to lionize an athlete even in the aftermath of alleged violence against women? That’s not acceptable.
On July 1, 2003, a 19-year-old woman working at a resort in Edwards, Colorado, reported she had been raped by Kobe the night before. Fourteen months later, the woman decided she would not testify and the case was dropped.
But Kobe issued a statement, apologizing to the woman “for my behavior” and acknowledging that while he believes the encounter was “consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.”
I don’t know what happened in that hotel room, and now only one person is left who does. But something happened, and it was not good, and while from all accounts Kobe thereafter went about the business of being a good husband and father, the stigma of that night should not be forgotten.
Women are routinely victimized in America, and they often are victimized again when seeking justice. That’s nothing that should be glazed over, no matter how much someone is glorified.
A new logo? Sure. The Jerry West logo is half a century old. It has served the NBA well. No shame in moving on.
But move on to Bill Russell, the NBA’s greatest champion and a tower for social justice for decades. Move on to Michael Jordan, the greatest marketer of them all and who in many ways was the NBA brand without a logo. Move on to LeBron, who in many ways is the culmination of all the stars before him, in terms of success and branding and voice.
Just not Kobe. Just not anyone who failed to embrace all the elements of social justice, no matter how much he has been canonized by the basketball culture.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.