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Kobe Bean Bryant is basketball’s equivalent of an assassin. At least 41 times a year, on a well light corner of Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles, you can find the self-proclaimed black mamba poised to strike with speed and precision at game’s end, sending visiting teams out of Staples Center snakebitten and twice shy. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard for Mr. Bryant to get the benefit of the doubt in the national media afforded to his countepart atop the basketball tell, Lebron James. It’s pretty hard to write something nice about a black snake.

But if ever there was a moment when Mr. Bryant deserved our sympathy it was in the shower at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia a decade ago, holding the repeat NBA championship trophy with tears streaming down in his elfin face. Crying not because of what he’d just won, but because of what he’d lost: his father. No, Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant had not passed away, but it sure must have felt like it to Mr. Bryant.

It’s no secret that Mr. Bryant’s parents rejected him, and his timing and choice of a bride, a short ten years ago. Given the nature of humans, as we watched Mr. Bryant’s parents sit courtside for the first time at a Staples Center playoff game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, one had to wonder if full forgiveness and reconciliation had taken place after the infliction of such a deep wound. Bullies don’t like to be bullied, ergo snakes don’t like to be bitten; and in this case the mamba was bitten badly. His parents were no shows at his wedding, his new house, the birth of his first child, and his greatest professional achievement to date, a back-to-back championship practically right down the street from their five bedroom Lower Merion home.

Examining the lives of public figures can be such voodoo science, because there’s often so much withheld from view. But in this case Mr Bryant’s celebrity, and to a lesser extent that of his dad, helped to place in plain view for a global audience a silent, invisible and overlooked problem: prejection. Parental rejection is more common than one might think. And in this case common doesn’t mean less significant. There are some 100 million people battling the problem in the United States, and as many as 1 billion globally.

Whether the courtside playoff photo op was authentic, or just shrewdly engineered ‘branding’ for a rehabbed icon on the corporate endorsement comeback trail may only be known later, through the lives of Mr. Bryant’s daughters, Natalia & Gianna, because children are windows into the spiritual, relational, and emotional dynamic of a household. And what we don’t forgive we pass on. If Mr. Bryant hasn’t fully forgiven, it will be evident in his own rejection of his kids.

We are a society that spends increasingly more of our leisure and entertainment dollars on the escape from and management of pain. Psychic pain. The pain of prejection. And like Grimaldi the clown, who had no one to cheer him up when he was down, to whom do supreme entertainers like Mr. Bryant turn to help manage their pain and nurse their wounds? One can only hope, for the sake of his family, that Mr. Bryant has fully sealed the deal, as befits his legend; that this battle is over, with no chance for overtime.

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