Kobe Bryant and the Pre-ordained Purpose!
Marc Jackson, the old New York Knicks and Pacers guard said a crazy thing the other day. A very crazy thing indeed it is to say that Kobe Bryant will one day be known as the greatest basketball player of all times, greater even than Michael Jordan. Scottie Pippen and Dan Patrick had an incredulous look on their faces as Mark Jackson made this utterance on national television. So did I.
After thinking about it for a while however, this comment does not appear so outlandish after all. We all have watched Michael Jordan, if not throughout all, then at least at the tail end of his basketball career, and worn over the videotapes , the many tapes that chronicle the greatest basketball career we have ever seen, bookmarked by superhuman feats and exploits that were, yet, regular and unending. MJ never failed to leave us speechless, whether it is by making last second shots to win the game, making a key steal or assist, locking down the main player on the opposing team or winning 6 championship rings in 8 years. In the process, the man, more than any other NBA great before , with names such as Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabaar, or Julius Erving, was able to continuously hijack the imagination of young and old as the greater of the half-gods, the doers of feats, gravity unbound. Michael Jordan‘s name transcended, to a degree greater than sports icons such as the Babe and the latter day Muhammad Ali, the world of sports to reach almost every corner of the globe. Is there anyone else whose silhouette has become the symbol, the brand, the identity? Who wanted not be, who wasn’t “like Mike?” Who did not eat the burger he offered, the fries he shared? Who did not spend betrothed money to buy shoes with a swoosh, named after a goddess? Who did not gulp the lab-made drink and sweat orange, or yellow, or some fluorescent green? Jordan was the NBA, he was Nike, and for we ate what he ate on tv, drank what he drank on tv, wore his tv outfits, we too were Mike.
One may even argue that Jordan’s great NBA rivals achieved the level of fame and adulation they did as a contrasting reaction to his. Jordan was the lightning rod, the one you adulated, or at least begrudgingly gave great respect as the consistency of his greatness managed to submit even the most stubborn regional or team loyalty induced hatred. His presence made players/ entities such as Isiah Thomas and his Detroit Bad Boys, Magic Johnson, the Knicks, Karl Malone and perhaps even Larry Bird, the needed alternative to Jordan, as the other power players, whether superheroes or villains, who, for the nature of drama requires opposition, must be assigned fans, an army.
Through the years, MJ’s charisma spread beyond the American borders, to the neighboring countries in Central and south America, to Europe, Asia and Africa.
Today, the older, retired, team owner Jordan, as the extension of the NBA, is still present in our sportive and cultural consciousness via his silhouette as a commercial entity, or via the shadow he casts still, looming large over the same consciousness as the standard of greatness to which every generation’s superstar is put against, be it Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse or Kobe Bryant.
In the soccer crazed place that is Italy, a young Kobe Bryant was touched by the magic that is Jordan’s game and sought out, like different parts of the Holy Grail, the physical attributes (same stance, shooting form, well-defined musculature, mannerisms…) as well as the mental strength (the relentlessness, the stubbornness, the ability to self-motivate, the drive and competitive spirit, even the selfishness innate to most if not all high scorers.)
In Jordan’s case, that selfishness seemed like a snake that bit it’s tail, a circle, a vortex that fed the greater rush of competition, no of domination,. Everything for Jordan is either means to an end, or collateral to that end: the satisfaction he derives at the end of the day from being the one left standing, coolly blowing the smoke of the barrel of his revolver and walking away with hardly a glance to the people, cheerful and thankful, knowing it to be the lot of the great; and who is greater? Kobe watched and he learned, he made himself all that and knew he could be more, and he answered, I am greater!
One can interpret the stars’ alignment and read in it one’s own prophecy. Hearing words and finding in it divine instructions has led many to greatness. How many of us haven’t found a dying knight, his horse, his sword and took on his mission? How many of us became that knight, rode that horse and wielded that sword well enough to finish the mission? Very, very few of us, very few! But, how many of us are Kobe?
Kobe came into the league straight out of high school, and decided to take over the league. He also decided he was also great, right then and there, and to express it took on Jordan at the All- star game. The unflinching confidence he displays, then and now, is rooted on his sense of purpose, which feeds his relentless drive and, unfortunately, is questioned by fans and non-fans alike. That same sense of purpose makes him decide he does not care whether people approve of his mission, to achieve his preordained greatness, or the means he employs to that end.
Like his mentor Jordan, Kobe shoots too much and sees it as the only way to win. Like his idol Jordan, Kobe fights the attempts of his coach, Phil Jackson, to make him play team ball, win and lose as one. Unlike Jordan however, who made up his mind to involve his teammates and did so very successfully, Kobe balked at the idea, continuously, philosophically and whole-heartedly, unable to see, as for most people“empowered” with a mission, that he does not have to embark on that mission alone, nor that he should make enemies of his disciples, including his own Judas, Shaq, who bolted/was sent to Miami.
In this reincarnation of the Kobe-Phil relationship, the knight riding under the black mamba flag, and the druid, the magic man who knew the future for he lived it once before, Kobe took a knee off his high horse and he heard the magic man’s utterances and let them guide his steps. Still, he kept it on, his knight’s armor for it shields his body from the outer word and its hurt, and his helmet for it protects his heads and focuses his sight. The armor, however, is a barricade, keeping the riff-raff, the fellow knights and even the name and the bloodline away, and the helmet, for it limits his vision and his hearing, makes this knight, Kobe, an opaque bubble through which the only clear sound to come is the one he wants to hear, everything else muffled yet echoing stubbornly even after the limelight is dimmed, the season is over, and Kobe is still in the gym. Every one of the daily 2000 shots made, every one of the reps taken on the bench, further builds the physical means and forges the mental steel that will, come next season make him lead the NBA in scoring, win many games almost on his own, will his team into the playoffs and in this process go where no player has gone since Will Chamberlain’s 100 points game and score 81 points against the raptors.
Kobe has yet to match the 6 rings that Jordan won, he also has yet to build the worldwide aura that Jordan forged. He is not even close to winning the respect of his peers and building a real camaraderie with his fellow players the way Jordan did, but their numbers are pretty comparable. Heck, Kobe did more than Jordan did at the same age, and has still at least 5 very productive years to amaze us. He is also maturing, and even though he still struggles with the sharing of scoring duties, the light will some day come on casting his shadow large and hungry and his aura bright and light. We will see it, that light, as Kobe will not quit, will not slow down, knowing that no man is greater than the man with purpose. We will hail the messiah, even against our will, for Kobe will make us, at the tone of many 100 point- games and many other rings; or when he learns when to shoot and when to pass.