In an interview released Tuesday on CBS This Morning, King brought up the case around halfway through, asking her guest, “It’s been said that his legacy is complicated because of a sexual assault charge, which was dismissed in 2003, 2004. Is it complicated for you as a woman, as a WNBA player?”
“It’s not complicated for me at all,” replied Leslie, 47. “I just never have ever 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.”
King opened up in an Instagram video captioned “My perspective” on Thursday morning after receiving backlash for her question following the tragic helicopter crash that killed Bryant at the age of 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other passengers on Jan. 26 in Calabasas, California.
“I’ve been up reading the comments about the interview I did with Lisa Leslie about Kobe Bryant. And I know that if I had only seen the clip that you saw, I’d be extremely angry with me too. I am mortified, I am embarrassed and I am very angry,” she said. “Unbeknownst to me, my network put up a clip from a very wide-ranging interview, totally taken out of context, and when you see it that way, it’s very jarring.”
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“It’s jarring to me; I didn’t even know anything about it. I started getting calls [asking], ‘What the hell are you doing? Why did you say this? What is happening?’ ” King continued. “I did not know what people were talking about.”
“So I’ve been advised to say nothing — just let it go. ‘People will drag you, people will troll you, it’ll be over in a couple of days.’ But that’s not good enough for me because I really want people to understand what happened here and how I’m feeling about it,” she added.
In a statement to PEOPLE, a CBS News spokesperson said, “Gayle conducted a thoughtful, wide-ranging interview with Lisa Leslie about the legacy of Kobe Bryant. An excerpt was posted that did not reflect the nature and tone of the full interview. We are addressing the internal process that led to this and changes have already been made.”
King also gave a statement to USA Today about the interview, telling the outlet, “I understand why people are upset seeing that clip out of context.”
She added, “I hope they will now watch the entire wide-ranging interview. We asked a longtime friend of Kobe Bryant’s to talk to us about his legacy and their friendship and Lisa Leslie did exactly that.”
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In the five-minute interview, Leslie said she has “other NBA friends” that are the type who would ask her to help them out when it comes to picking up women, but the Los Angeles Lakers legend wasn’t one of them.
“But Lisa, you wouldn’t see it, though,” King continued after the four-time Olympic gold medalist said she never saw Bryant act in an aggressive manner toward women. “As his friend, you wouldn’t see it.”
“And that’s possible,” Leslie said. “I just don’t believe that. And I’m not saying things didn’t happen — I just don’t believe that things [happened] with force.”
In 2003, Bryant pled not guilty to felony sexual assault after a 19-year-old employee of a Vail, Colorado-area resort accused him of rape, PEOPLE reported at the time. The woman claimed the NBA player also blocked her from leaving his room and allegedly choked her. Criminal charges against the athlete were eventually dropped, and a civil case brought against Bryant was settled out of court.
Bryant claimed the encounter was consensual and apologized to the woman in a statement read in court, saying in part, “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” The New York Times reported.
During the Tuesday CBS interview, King asked whether Leslie believed the question about the rape case was “fair” since Bryant is dead and that the case “was resolved,” or if “it’s really part of his history.”
“I think that the media should be more respectful at this time,” Leslie replied. “If you’ve 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 over his legacy.”
After King said the alleged victim in the case “refused to testify” against Bryant, leading to the case’s dismissal, Leslie said, “I think that’s how we should leave it.”