Kobe Bryant, who played basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers for 20 years, received a mixed reception when he took to the podium on Friday morning at Winter Institute 14 during the small and university presses breakfast to introduce his new children’s and teen book imprint, Granity Studios. Granity Studios is a multimedia company that is publishing books targeting young athletes with tales containing athletic characters and themes exploring the particular challenges athletes face.
“It’s Harry Potter meets the Olympics, and had a baby,” he said of Granity’s debut series, the Wizenard Series, that he created with Wesley King, who wrote the first volume, Training Camp (Mar.).
While many booksellers tweeted excitedly during the breakfast about being in such close proximity to the basketball legend, and stood in a long line afterwards to meet him and talk with him about Granity, others expressed their disappointment during conversations with colleagues and on social media that ABA had given him a forum. Bryant was charged in 2003 with the sexual assault of a 19-year-old female employee at a Colorado hotel at which he was a guest. The case was settled out of court; while Bryant publicly apologized to his accuser, he did so without admitting guilt.
Lexi Beach, who owns the Astoria Bookshop in New York City, tweeted on Friday morning, “I am so disappointed in my industry for inviting him today.” Referring to the ABA’s new Code of Conduct, which was prominently posted at the entrances to the convention center, MPIBA marketing and communications manager Jeremy Ellis asked in a tweet, “Does Kobe Bryant live up to the ABA code of conduct?” And Stefanie Kiper Schmidt of Water Street Books in Exeter, N.H., wrote that Bryant “is not a good dude, not worthy of this conference, not worthy of our applause, not worthy of our industry. Not. Worthy.”
Another bookseller, Sara Grochowski, who works at McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, Mich., posted a link to a 2016 Hollywood Reporter story about the case on her Facebook page and asked that her "bookseller and librarian friends revisit this before deciding to stock Bryant's new children's books."
Allowing Bryant to speak at WI14, Beach told PW, seems like “a big step backwards” for an industry that has been roiled in the past year after several prominent authors and industry professionals were charged with sexual harassment. Noting that it’s difficult enough to decide whether or not to pull books from shelves by beloved authors who have been accused of sexual harassment, Beach asked whether the industry should even “give the time of day” to someone like Bryant, “who has asked to become part of this community” despite having been charged with a crime by an accuser whom Beach considers to have been credible. Beach says that she does not intend to carry books published by Granity at her store and is still considering whether or not to special order them for customers.
Cynthia Compton, owner of 4Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Ind., was not at WI14; she says she first heard about Bryant’s appearance there on social media, when booksellers started posting photos taken with him. Expressing “shock, surprise, and confusion” that the ABA would add Bryant to the WI14 schedule, Compton also said she will not stock Granity titles, though she will special order any titles a customer requests, just as she does for any other controversial author.
ABA CEO Oren Teicher said the association is aware of the reaction to Bryant and explained that the participation of any company or person does not signify ABA endorsement, and that the ABA does not evaluate the personal conduct of any attendee other than what occurs during its events. He added, however, "moments like this are always opportunities to re-evaluate our practices and procedures and we fully intend to do so. ABA has already received feedback about Kobe Bryant and Granity’s participation in WI14, both positive and negative, and we are always seeking to garner additional member feedback. If members have thoughts or opinions that they would to share they are encouraged to reach out. We always want to hear from our members."