WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - The moment I walked into the office this morning, Maria at the front desk pulled out the column I wrote when Kobe Bryant was arrested on allegations of sexual assault.
The lead: "No way in hell."
Maria likes to torture me.
It has been a week since the charges were officially filed. A week since the astonishing press conference where Bryant declared his innocence of sexual assault, but confessed to committing adultery with his 19-year-old accuser. Holding hands with his wife, he said he was furious with himself, disgusted with himself. There were tremors in his voice, tears slipping down his cheek.
I suppose I could have reminded Maria that since Mr. Bryant has yet to be convicted, "no way in hell" has yet to be disproved. But that would be a narrow defense, factual without being true. Because we both know that when I wrote those words, I meant more than that. I meant that here was an exemplary man. A guy who was clean-cut and decent. A guy who could never do something like that.
The events of the last week call all that into doubt.
You don't want to overreact. Mr. Bryant is legally innocent until a court says otherwise. And his one admitted transgression - adultery - is a depressingly common sin.
Still, it's not a sin you - by which I mean, I - ever expected from Mr. Bryant. Besides, you wanted more from him than just legal innocence. He enjoyed the benefit of the doubt precisely because he seemed like a guy who would never need it. One who would never put himself in such a tawdry situation.
Now he's at the center of a case that has begun to look like this year's trial of the century. And while other observers dutifully examine it through prisms of race, sex, sport and even journalistic ethics, I find myself still stuck with the prism of plain old disappointment. Still muttering, "Aw, geez, Kobe. Aw, geez."
I mean, by the best interpretation of the events, Mr. Bryant is a philandering husband who decided to grab himself a little quickie while he was away from the little woman.
By the worst, he is a monster.
If the latter is the case, well, that's why they build cells. But if it's "only" the former, then what?
The tendency is to reach for the cliches about men being men or men being human or even men being dogs. Or to argue that what Mr. Bryant does is not our business so long as he continues to lob the ball through the net.
But he made it our business every time he used our belief in his decency to sell us hamburgers, basketballs and overpriced athletic shoes. We have a right to our disappointment.
Yet in some sense, perhaps disappointment was inevitable.
So often, you discover that you don't know your own buddy or brother as well as you thought you did. So by what trick of self-delusion do we fool ourselves into thinking we "know" some athlete we've never met?
You see a Kobe Bryant juke some defender out of his shoes and somehow, the ability to do that seems not just evidence of talent and hard work, but evidence that he is better, somehow. Heroic, somehow.
Intellectually, you know better. But we're talking about something that bypasses intellect.
Meaning the exhilaration of the impossible catch, the thunderous dunk, the sweet move. Meaning arguments in the barbershop, bets made at the water cooler and jumping out of the chair to high-five everyone and everything in sight. Meaning that which lifts us. And that which drops us sometimes, too.
There are already painfully few people in public life who I admire. And it occurs to me that the only way to be protected from that drop is just to give up and admire no one. I don't know if I can be that cynical. Don't know if I want to.
So I'm pulling for Kobe Bryant. He's my guy. He plays for my team in my hometown, and I don't want to hate him.
I just hope he's left me a choice.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by calling toll-free at 1-888-251-4407.