Photo Credit: Mogolecho via Flickr
There’s Keynesian Economics. There’s Heisenberg’s String Theory. There’s Martin Heidegger. There’s David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. And then there’s the realm of Kobe Bryant’s mind. Understanding Kobe isn’t rocket science. Actually, he’s confounding in ways that would make aerospace engineering blush.
In a more palpable form, he’d be a boon for writers—there is no shortage of ardent prose by which one can attempt to describe him. On any given night, Kobe can bring forth a dazzling array of tricks and magnificent erudition. Yet the way Kobe pits his skill and intelligence against some of his more egregious on-court actions is more befuddling than it is a kindle. Kobe is a marvel but one that eschews our misgivings, seemingly, just because he can. Even in a state of stubborn bluster, he’s not reminiscent of a prototypical chucker—we understand him to be too brilliant, too calculative for such a conclusion. And yet.
To say Bryant purposefully makes the game harder for himself feels crass. But maybe that’s where the unique beauty of his scrupulous nature really shines. The erratic 30-foot bombs and patented fade-aways that fling in the face of multiple defenders concoct a story in which Kobe has willfully constructed himself as equal parts confounding recluse and impassioned champion; more accurately, the most polarizing cult of personality known to basketball—a title normally prescribed to LeBron James. However, LeBron was simply the first wounded soldier against a social media cavalry that was unaware of its own power. But Kobe, who blurs the lines between inscrutable winner and selfish ball hog with more force of will than almost anyone before him (he’s neck and neck will Allen Iverson in this regard), remains the NBA’s great divider.
Kobe may not even know where he stands anymore. You get the feeling he wouldn’t have it any other way.
On the hardwood, Kobe’s alpha dog tendencies undoubtedly set his career back. But this is a man in the business of legacy building, he’s always pined for immortality and permanence. In that realm, he’s been wildly successful. Kobe gave birth to a mega-narrative, one that’s surely upstaged the weight of his failures and even more impressively, his successes. He is not the guy with 15 All-Star appearances, five rings, two finals MVP’s and an endless legion of supporters—some of which are only tuning in to the NBA for his sake —anymore. Simply— no, obtusely and definitively, he is Kobe Bryant.
In 18 years, Bryant has given us more than just great basketball. He’s meticulously crafted the era’s guiding storylines, myths and themes; an eloquent part of the backdrop on which we attempt to make sense of this magnificent game. Allied by serendipity, he’s the closest thing this era of basketball has to a player who won on his own terms.
Yet even a man so precise, so mathematical, so skilled is defenseless against the heavy hand of a vindictive Basketball God. A left knee fracture. A torn Achilles— ironically, and depressingly, the only injury that could remind basketball its oldest pseudo-Greek hero is indeed, human. It couldn’t have been scripted any better.