The night of June 26, 1996 is an evening that I will always remember. The National Basketball Association held what many consider was the greatest draft in its 71-year history. In the seasons that followed, the players selected in the 1996 Draft accumulated MVP Awards, multiple All-Star Game appearances, and NBA Championships. Many of them were special (Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Stephon Marbury), while another reached iconic status and heavily influenced the culture that we live in today (Allen Iverson). However, out of all the individuals that were drafted during the summer of ’96, only one has emerged from the rest of the pack, and his name was Kobe Bryant.

As Kobe Bryant walked across that stage in New Jersey as a teenager with the world at his fingertips; he never would have thought that he would step on another stage almost 22 years later… accepting an Oscar. It was been said that success in life depends on patience and strong perseverance and what made Kobe a transcendent player was that his competitive fire and infamous work-ethic far outweighed any of his physical talents. His “do-anything-to-win” state of mind translated into the film industry, which allowed him to capture the highly-coveted Academy Award at its 90th annual ceremony earlier this month.

During the height of the #MeToo Movement, Kobe winning an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film came with a polarizing set of opinions. The fact that a person who devoted his life to one thing, and conquered every aspect of it was able to move on and reach the peak of another became an inspiration to anyone that wanted to follow a dream. On the other hand, critics of Kobe Bryant couldn’t help but to remind us about that fateful night in July of 2003, in Eagle, Colorado. With that being the only true blemish towards his reputation it is important to point out what he has done since this incident to shift the narrative of his legacy in a more positive direction.

“Hollywood is a fascinating industry to be a part of, and it comes with new responsibilities. I think for us going forward, how do I carry this night beyond this night? Now there’s a greater sense of responsibility. How do I provide more opportunities for even more diverse and new voices to be heard in this industry? In the animation business, there’s a serious lack of diversity.”

– Kobe Bryant

A lot of people felt that the industry displayed an immense amount of hypocrisy by giving ‘Dear Basketball’ an Academy Award. In 2003, Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault during his rehabilitation in Colorado. While he was never officially convicted, in the court of public opinion you are guilty until proven innocent. The irony in all of this is that he is also a man of color, and his win (along with Jordan Peele) shows progress in the acceptance of more diversity in the people who win Oscars. So for many, this night was bittersweet.

There were many things to take away from Kobe Bryant winning an Academy Award. Depending on your life experiences or general point of view, that “take away” could be either positive or negative; maybe even both in some instances. My grandmother always used to tell me: “Two things can be true.” Kobe Bryant’s past shouldn’t negate the things he’s done to better himself, both inside and outside the realm of professional sports. Even though I believe that your past makes you who you are, in order to move forward one must try to refrain from looking back.

Here’s to new beginnings,

– Okla