On Tuesday, Gayle King sat down with WNBA superstar Lisa Leslie to discuss the basketball player’s relationship with the late Kobe Bryant. Bryant, who was among nine people killed in a helicopter crash last month, was very close with Leslie; the athletes both began their professional careers in Los Angeles and sparked up a friendship that spanned over two decades.
The interview began with the women talking about Bryant’s undeniable impact on the NBA (and the sports world in general) as well as Leslie’s friendship with the basketball star. Leslie and Bryant started their respective careers in the WNBA and NBA just years apart from each other. His death, said Leslie, was obviously personally devastating for her as well as for the NBA as a whole — but it was also a significant loss for the world of women’s basketball.
“He was making changes,” the WNBA star said of Bryant. “He was changing the mindsets of men more than anyone else. He was validating us, these young ladies who are out here playing." Bryant was famously supportive of the WNBA, no doubt due to his daughter Gianna's growing love for basketball. Though many sports fanatics bemoaned the fact that Bryant and his wife Vanessa had never had a son to carry on his legacy in the NBA, "girl dad" Bryant was certain that Gianna would carry the torch even further than he could. Unfortunately, Gianna was also aboard the helicopter when it crashed, a devastating blow to an already heartbreaking situation.
The mood of the interview inevitably shifted when King began to ask Leslie about Bryant’s past legal struggles. In 2003, Bryant was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in a Colorado hotel. The criminal charges against the NBA player were dropped when Bryant’s accuser did not show up at the trial, but both parties later settled a civil case out of court. Bryant’s statement after the case claimed that while he believed the sexual contact was consensual at the time, he later realized that it was not, apologizing to the woman for what happened.
To the chagrin of many viewers, King brought up the court case in the interview, asking Leslie if she felt, as a woman and a basketball player, that the charges complicated Bryant’s legacy. “It’s not complicated for me at all,” said Leslie. “I have [never] seen him being the kind of person that would do something to violate a woman or be aggressive in that way. That's just not the person that I know."
“I think the media should be more respectful at this time,” Leslie continued with emphasis. “It's like, if you had questions about it, you've had many years to ask him that. I don't think it's something that we should keep hanging out his legacy."
Fans were incensed by King’s line of questioning as presented in the interview, which the veteran journalist now says was completely chopped up by CBS. She took to Instagram to make her case. “I know that if I had only seen the clip that you saw, I’d be extremely angry with me too,” King said on IGTV. “I am mortified, I am embarrassed, and I am very angry.”
King claimed that CBS had posted just a short snippet from the long interview, totally removing the necessary nuance of the greater conversation that she had with Leslie. “When you see it that way, it’s very jarring — it’s jarring to me.”
“I wanted to get Lisa’s take on it as a friend who knew [Bryant] well...during the course of the interview, I asked follow up questions to make sure her position and perspective were very clear.”
King also said that she talked to Leslie after the interview to see how she felt about the conversation, and the basketball star was perfectly okay with what they had discussed.
“For the network to take the most salacious part, when taken out of context, and put it online for people who didn’t see the whole interview is very upsetting to me. That’s something that I’ll have to deal with with them,” she said. “There will be a very intense discussion about that.”
She closed by clarifying that, having spent time with Bryant in the past, he had been very kind and warm to her. “I, too, am mourning his loss just like everybody else,” said King. “The last thing I would want to do is disparage him at this particular time.”
The veteran journalist told her almost 800,000 Instagram followers that she had been told to keep silent on the matter but was speaking out to make sure that the public could understand that the clips that they had seen were intentionally provided out of context.