Most of you will glance at the title of this post and give me one of two answers. One will be a result of a quick objective look at the individual basketball prowess of the two players and you will reply, “Hands down, Kobe.” The other answer will be yours if you know my alma mater and you will dismissively reply, “You’re biased.” Maybe so. To both answers. But I know that when you pick Kobe, unless you’re a non-bandwagon Laker fan, you have this heavy unsettling feeling you would not feel if you were picking between, let’s say, Jordan and Lebron. This unsettling cloud is why Kobe has so many haters, but it doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It has a source. Kobe, himself? Well, sort of. But more accurately: Kobe’s pride.
Tim Keown writes in an ESPN column, “Leave the scowl at home, Kobe” how Kobe tries too hard to great an image for himself, most of the time by verbal derision of other players, and rarely lets his talent do the talking, which no one doubts that he has. Keown perceptively comments:
“And that’s the deal about Kobe: None of us is sure. How can a guy with that much talent play with such little joy? Why does he feel he has to put on that phony tough-guy show all the time? Underneath all that pre-fab armor, who is he? Does he even know?
It’s sad, maybe, but Kobe will never be appreciated in a manner commensurate with his ability. He’s in the process of turning himself into an antihero. (In many respects, he is similar to Alex Rodriguez, another tin-eared superstar.) Everything he does reeks of insecurity, which is a really weird trait for a guy who — along with LeBron James — is a once-a-decade basketball talent.”
Now, this lack of joy is present because Kobe does not enjoy playing basketball for basketball, he only enjoys being better at basketball than everyone else. As CS Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” And interestingly, Keown describes Kobe as insecure. It reminds me of what religious people do when they try to earn righteousness. That is, they try to do good things in life in order to prove to God (and in a way coerce Him) that God should stamp them with His seal of approval, that in essence they are fit to enter into God’s holy presence. Well, this is what insecure people do. Find security in something. Ultimately, they HAVE to. And when it comes to pride, it’s relative security, that is, you find security in being better than other people.
Benedict Carey writes in the interesting and appropriate NYTimes article, “Stumbling Blocks on the Path to Righteousness” about how religious people tend to have the “holier-than-thou effect.” Though it is a very good psychological analysis, it only begins to grasp at the reason why such “effects” exists and can offer no solution (though maybe Carey is not trying to). It misses that, in a sense, we are all like Kobe. Maybe not in basketball, but in something else. There is something that gives us this sense of security, our pride, but when we see someone have more of it than ourselves, we panic, we lose our pleasure, our pride turns to envy, or worse, hatred. In part it’s worse because we have lost sense of the gravity of the issue, Lewis writes in the same book mentioned above,
“Well, now, we have come to the centre. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
I am not saying that Kobe exclusively is like the devil, that would be unfair and uncalled for. What I am saying is that we all are like the devil, in our prideful behaviors. And as we look at others and find joy in having more of ‘that thing of security’ than them, not only do we walk the path of becoming “antihero[s]” but but we are stumbling onto the road of becoming a person with a “complete anti-God state of mind.” And that, my friends, is grave.