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Kobe Bryant’s Oscar nod rings awkward in a year Hollywood is hyper-focused on sexual assault

Kobe Bryant and Glen Keane discuss “Dear Basketball” in a screening this month in New York. (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for “Dear Basketball”)

A short film based on the retirement letter of Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers great, earned an Oscar nomination that in any other year might have been a no-brainer.

The six-minute “Dear Basketball,”  an adaptation of his 2015 love letter to the game that was published by The Players’ Tribune, is among the nominees for Best Animated Short Film and showcases the work of Disney artist Glen Keane and composer John Williams. Bryant’s words and the images show that this is clearly worthy of an Oscar nomination, except for one thing.

What’s not to love about an NBA great talking about his affection for the game?

In the wake of Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, it is raising reminders of the time Bryant was accused of sexual assault. In July 2003, he was arrested in Eagle, Colo., and charged with sexual assault, accused by a 19-year-old hotel employee of rape. The accuser told authorities that she was assaulted while he was staying at The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera awaiting surgery. Bryant claimed that the two had consensual sex, and he publicly apologized to his wife, Vanessa.

Bryant’s accuser refused to testify, and the criminal case was dropped, with a civil suit settled out of court for an undisclosed sum of money. An apology was part of the settlement, and the words echo in the apologies we’re hearing out of Hollywood and other places today.

“First, I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year,” his statement read. “Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure. I also want to apologize to her parents and family members, and to my family and friends and supporters, and to the citizens of Eagle, Colo.

“I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case. Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.

“I issue this statement today fully aware that while one part of this case ends today, another remains. I understand that the civil case against me will go forward. That part of this case will be decided by and between the parties directly involved in the incident and will no longer be a financial or emotional drain on the citizens of the state of Colorado.”

Now, Bryant is an Oscar nominee. Perhaps the passage of time or Bryant’s superstardom with a team that moves the needle in L.A. helped the academy forget. At any rate, he expressed delight and surprise at the nomination.

“What?? This is beyond the realm of imagination,” he tweeted. “It means so much that the @TheAcademy deemed #DearBasketball worthy of contention. Thanks to the genius of @GlenKeanePrd & John Williams for taking my poem to this level. It’s an honor to be on this team. #OscarNoms”

In an interview with the New York Daily News in April 2017, Bryant explained that he was thinking of an animated film even as he wrote the letter.

“When I sat down to write, I could either say what I was feeling to the game, or I could visually communicate. If I’m speaking to someone, I think it’s always better to speak through stories, to speak through visual images. . . .

“It’s an arc of understanding that things come to an end. When things come to an end, we can either embrace that change and welcome the change, or we can be resistant to that change. I found myself being at peace with this transition, and with the finality, with my career coming to an end.”

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