Folded conveniently into the narratives about his "complicated past" was the detail about Kobe Bryant that could've wrecked him.
It was a rape allegation by a 19-year-old employee of a hotel. It happened in 2003. Some argued that making that life-altering detail a mere footnote to the stories detailing Bryant's life and unexpected death was the human thing to do on such an awful day. Others felt it was another example of an icon being given a pass of sorts because he was a successful athlete.
While dozens of high-profile figures — including senators, movie producers, news anchors and comedians (but not the president or the newest Supreme Court justice) — have seen their careers vanquished by allegations of sex abuse and domestic violence, high-profile sports figures have skated past similar accusations at a far more frequent rate.
"We look up to them to win games," said Miki Turner, a longtime journalist who is now a professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. "But we don't really scrutinize their values as closely as we might for politicians or news anchors. I think there's just a different line there."
Here's a quick list from the recent past: relief pitcher Roberto Osuna, soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, running back Ezekiel Elliott, quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Ben Roethlisberger, Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton and Super Bowl 54-bound receiver Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs. All are among the sports stars who have had stomach-churning allegations leveled against them but have skirted major repercussions — from their leagues, the teams, law enforcement or, in large part, in the court of public opinion.
"There's something about the instant gratification of having a game that night versus, say, being an actor and taking a year to make a movie," says Courtney Cox, a former ESPN staffer who teaches a class on race and gender in sport at University of Oregon. "If (sports stars are) treated differently, part of that is the instant way they're visible, and the way they are able to rectify and rebrand themselves" by the final buzzer of the next game.
In other words, winning makes up for a lot.
Among the central questions in the Bryant story, and how his life is being remembered, is whether the pass he received in the obituaries and tributes was more about the passage of time than any bias toward him, or athletes in general.
The Washington Post is facing a backlash for suspending a reporter who tweeted a story that detailed the sexual assault case against Bryant. The newspaper said reporter Felicia Somnez "undermined the work of her colleagues" with the tweet.
It's been 17 years since the allegations. A good section of Bryant's fan base either wasn't born, or was barely able to understand the news, when reports of his case first surfaced.
But Bryant was a sports celebrity, not a movie or media star, and that reality almost certainly impacts the calculus, regardless of era.
"Sometimes, it's OK to not have a right answer," Cox said. "We're all very morally righteous with our Twitter fingers. The idea of the black-and-whiteness of it all. But it's not that easy. We grieve family members who had problematic pasts. But with athletes, it seems like we need a neat, tidy story even when it's not always there."
For celebrities who aren't athletes, the story lines aren't as malleable.
The torrent of allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017 marked a turning point in the #metoo era. Hollywood and, to some extent, Washington, took the brunt of the blame. Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Placido Domingo are a small part of a list of more than 250 public figures in entertainment, politics and media who have been accused of wrongdoing since the start of #metoo. The majority have seen their careers stymied.