A slice of the surreal life
Amidst the media frenzy surrounding the Kobe Bryant trial at the Eagle County Courthouse last week, Shelley Smith, a Colorado native who ‘practically grew up’ in Eagle County, sat back to contemplate her unique perspective on the proceedings.
Smith, a Los Angeles bureau reporter for ESPN who was in town to cover the Bryant trial, spent much of her childhood and adult life in the Eagle Valley. She grew up in Denver, but when she was five, her parents bought a home on Meadow Drive in Vail. From then on “we spent every weekend and every summer up here,” said Smith.
“Where we were was the edge of town then,” said Smith, “It’s so funny to see how developed it has gotten.”
Graduating from Wheatridge High School in Denver, Smith went on to attend college at Nebraska. “We all went to Nebraska,” she said. While there, she took a news writing class. She loved the class, and had always been a big sports fan, so mixing the two seemed only natural.
“I started writing sports in college and just kept on from there,” Smith said. “I didn’t know where it was going to lead but I’m glad it led to where it has.”
Coming back for Kobe
With her parents both retired and living here half the year, Smith is used to trips to Eagle County. Her father, Ron, is a former Battle Mountain High School principal, and her mother, Luanne, is a longtime employee of Gorsuch. But coming back under these circumstances has been unusual, she said.
When news that charges may be brought against Kobe Bryant first began to surface, media outlets worldwide were scrambling for up-to-the-minute accurate information. At a time like this, a reporter with the ties and connections of Smith enlists the help of some of her best sources: mom and dad.
Because Smith’s parents had such a close proximity to the epicenter of this scandal, and a few ‘contacts on the inside,’ they ended up being one of her primary sources from the outset.
“Right away this has had a real strange feel to it,” Smith said. “I’m calling in reports like ‘my mom’s best friend’s ex-wife is married to (Eagle County Sheriff) Joe Hoy, and they were at a barbecue Monday night and he said something big was going to happen and that Kobe was going to be charged with rape.”
Dad’s ties at the Vail Golf Club came in to play, also. Smith says she received a report from her father that, “a local judge just teed off, and he said something was going to happen.”
“I was pulling in information from the very first day,” said Smith. “The whole town seemed like they were on my side. I have gotten information from so many different sources. I’ve got guys (who work) at my dad’s golf course calling me with updates.”
Seeing both sides
Being a reporter in L.A., Smith knows Bryant professionally. She also knows that a lot of people in Southern California have a misperception about Eagle and think that Bryant is being falsely accused of a heinous crime.
“People there have already made up their minds,” she said.
“It’s almost surreal to see Kobe up here in my town under these circumstances,” said Smith. “It bothers me that people haven’t done enough reporting to find out what it is really like up here. It hurts me when people say, ‘It is some old cracker, redneck town,’ without understanding that it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country, and that this valley is such an awesome place and the people are so great.”
Smith, who covered the O.J. Simpson trial, said there are similarities in the Bryant case – specifically, the media circus surrounding it. But the similarities end there, she said.
“I don’t think the O.J. trial was fair for a lot of reasons,” Smith said. “But I think the people here are educated and I think that … in the end they will decide on the merit of the evidence. In that way, I think the trial will be fair. I just have a feeling about the people up here that they will be fair.”
Beyond that, Smith was understandably hesitant to comment on the potential outcome of these proceedings. With ties in both Los Angeles and Eagle County, Smith understands as well as anyone that there is a lot at stake on both sides.
“The whole thing, no matter what happens, is just tragic,” said Smith. “I have great empathy for what (the alleged victim) and her family are going through. I feel for Kobe, too. His image was so squeaky clean, and then this happens.
“From what little we know that happened that night,” she added, “whether there was fault or not, it was certainly not in that image we all had of Kobe Bryant. Whatever happens here, that image is gone forever.”