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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 March, 2004, 21:59 GMT
Kobe, OJ, justice and race
By Kevin Anderson
BBC News Online in Washington

Kobe Bryant
Basketball star Kobe Bryant denies rape
Bill Ingram coaches a teen basketball team in suburban Dallas, Texas.

As with young players in the 1980s and 90s who wanted to "Be like Mike" - as in Michael Jordan - his players want to be like Kobe as in Kobe Bryant.

When he is not on the court, Mr Ingram covers basketball, as the senior editor for Basketball News Service, and he has worked closely with the Los Angeles Lakers, the team Kobe Bryant plays for.

He was shocked when he heard that Kobe Bryant had been accused of rape and admitted to cheating on his wife with a 19-year-old woman at a resort in Eagle, Colorado.

"I thought this must be another person. Kobe Bryant is not the kind of person to get caught with his pants down," he said.

After the news broke, the media started drawing parallels between this case and the case of another high-profile black athlete, OJ Simpson.

Both were cases involving high profile black athletes, and both had the potentially racially-charged mix of a black man accused of committing a crime against a white woman.

Race will enter into this trial. White supremacists scattered fliers in the Colorado town where Kobe Bryant will stand trial, with the banner headline: "Don't have sex with blacks".

But blacks and whites do not see this to be the racially divisive trial that the OJ Simpson case was.

Race and justice

Mr Ingram, who is white, asked his players, most of whom are black, whether they thought the Kobe case was about race.

"They say, 'No, this is about whether he raped this girl, right? Why would this be racial?" Mr Ingram said.

OJ Simpson
White and black Americans had very different views of OJ's guilt
Unlike the OJ Simpson trial, there is not the great divide between blacks and whites in beliefs over whether or not Kobe Bryant is guilty.

Black Americans believed OJ Simpson to be innocent, the victim of a biased unjust, justice system, while an overwhelming 82% of whites thought OJ Simpson was guilty.

In the Kobe Bryant case, polls show that most Americans think he will get a fair trial, but the results are split based on race.

A January AP-Ipsos poll showed that whites believed the basketball star would get a fair trial by a 76-18 margin, while blacks were more sceptical, with 54-43 believing he would get a fair trial.

But is the Kobe Bryant trial the OJ Simpson of this decade?

Clearly there are lots of similarities between the two cases, said Curtis Jackson, national correspondent for Black Entertainment Television Nightly News.

Michael Jackson
Just when the Kobe Bryant case was reaching a fever pitch, suddenly Michael Jackson took some of the media attention away
Curtis Jackson, national correspondent BET Nightly News
Two high profile athletes, two men idolised in the black community.

"Kobe Bryant was seen as the 'Air' apparent," Mr Jackson said, a successor to basketball megastar Michael 'Air' Jordan.

But he said there were important differences between the OJ and Kobe cases.

Kobe Bryant has admitted that he had sex with the woman but says the sex was consensual.

"It's more of a 'he-said, she-said' case," Mr Jackson said.

And he said public opinion in the African-American community had moved on since the OJ Simpson trial.

Mr Jackson said his friends joke that Kobe Bryant should send a thank you card to Michael Jackson.

He said: "Just when the Kobe Bryant case was reaching a fever pitch, suddenly Michael Jackson took some of the media attention away."

NBA star faces accuser in court
24 Mar 04  |  Americas
Case against NBA star detailed
09 Oct 03  |  Americas
Profile: Kobe Bryant
08 Oct 03  |  US Sport

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