If for some reason you don’t know who Kobe Bryant is, he’s only one of the best basketball players ever. And he recently retired from the NBA.
What most people don’t know, though, is that he’s Catholic. And that, according to a recent interview, his Catholic faith helped him through one of the darkest times of his life.
Born in 1978 in Philadelphia, Kobe (he’s known by his first name) was raised in a Roman Catholic family. When he was six, his family moved to Italy, to a small town an hour outside of Rome. Because of this, Kobe speaks fluent Italian to this day.
He was drafted into the NBA right out of high school, the first time a guard had ever been drafted that young, and he quickly became a star. Soon people were speculating about whether he was “the next Michael Jordan.”
In 2001, when he was 23, he married 19 year old Vanessa Laine, who is also Catholic. The wedding was held at St. Edward Roman Catholic Church in Dana Point, California. Two years later in 2003, their first child was born.
The year 2003 was also when something else happened that changed his life forever, and for which he would need to lean on his faith: he was accused of raping a young woman in his hotel room while in Colorado for knee surgery.
Ashamed, Kobe admitted right away that he had had sex with the woman, which was adultery against his wife. But he was adamant that he had not raped the woman.
In addition to the grave damage this did to his family, it had huge consequences for his career: major sponsors dropped him, sales of his jersey plummeted, and his general reputation was obviously badly damaged.
A year later, a judge dismissed the criminal rape charges. The woman also filed a civil lawsuit against Kobe, which was settled out of court. In the midst of this, Kobe issued a public statement that included apologies to the woman, her family, his family, and the people of the Colorado town where the incident had occurred.
In an interview with GQ in early 2015, he explained how he leaned on his Catholic faith to help him get through the ordeal:
“The [loss of the] endorsements were really the least of my concerns. Was I afraid of going to jail? Yes. It was twenty-five to life, man. I was terrified. The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest.
“It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ’Did you do it?’ And I say, ’Of course not.’ Then he asks, ’Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ’Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ’Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point.”
Kobe and his wife remained together for a few years after the accusations, and even had a second child, but in 2011 his wife filed for divorce. Fortunately, in 2013 they announced they had reconciled and called off the divorce.
It’s hard to know how important the Church is in his life on a daily basis. But we do know that he was raised Catholic, got married to a Catholic in a Catholic church, and says he is raising his kids Catholic. And when he was at his lowest point, it was to a Catholic priest that he turned for help and guidance.
Might we all remember that Christ and His Church is always there for us – especially in our darkest moments.
[See also: 6 Bibles Verses to Help You Survive Game Day]