Many criticize the current culture of the NBA as being too polite and friendly. When LeBron James could not win in Cleveland, he joined his friends in Miami. Carmelo Anthony has often spoken of his desire to play with Chris Paul, an attendee of his wedding. Even in Chicago, one of the contributing factors to the firing of Tom Thibodeau after last season was his toughness on players: players were simply tired and worn down by his demanding coaching.
Yet, one player that has stood out against this culture for the past 20 years has been Kobe Bryant. Notorious for driving his teammates to the point of insanity, Dwight Howard for example; Kobe Bryant always thought he was the best player, and felt he would find a way to lead his team to victory. Even when pushed on this aspect of his personality, Kobe responded, “I meant that friends can come and go, but banners hang forever.” It is precisely this determination to win that makes Kobe Bryant such an attractive player, and, frankly, a worthy role model.
Concomitant with this ferocity toward others is what I admire most about Kobe: his willingness to suffer. As Herman Hesse states in Steppenwolf, a bourgeois is someone that is all too comfortable with mediocrity. Averse to pain and suffering, and convinced that their “self” is sacred, the bourgeois never becomes anything. Afraid to lose one’s “self,” they never transform into an Immortal. Personally, I find this struggle incredibly pertinent to my life, explicative of our culture at-large, and of the modern NBA personality. NBA players have gone through AAU, High School, and College as the dominant player on the court. They discovered a way to score, and when pressurised in the NBA, their default is resorting to this isolation play. When challenged to play a new style of basketball that emphasises the team over the individual, such as the triangle offense, players crumble under the demand to think differently, to be a different person.
Simply put, the current NBA player seems to have such an aversion to suffering and transformation that it often takes years for a player simply to learn how to “win.” Think about the absurdity of that truth. Now, I am not here praising Kobe’s selfless play. He was selfish. “I’ve shot too much from the time I was 8 years old. But ‘too much’ is a matter of perspective. Some people thought Mozart had too many notes in his compositions. Let me put it this way: I entertain people who say I shoot too much. I find it very interesting. Going back to Mozart, he responded to critics by saying there were neither too many notes or too few. There were as many as necessary.” Nor would I say that Kobe was particularly innovative in his play. “Smush Parker was the worst. He shouldn’t have been in the NBA but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard. … I was shooting 45 times a game [in 2007]. What was I supposed to do? Pass it into Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown?” Kobe often defaulted to shooting on his own rather than finding a teammate with a better shot.
To Kobe, he was the best shot. But, what we could, and must, all learn from Kobe, is the desire to suffer, experience pain, transform and lose our “selves.” Through this process, we can achieve a meaningful life: we can become Immortal.