(NOTE: Here’s something possibly unexpected from an art blog: A sports entry. There are plenty of big and important news stories out there, but this one had me thinking about identity. Dodging the sexual assault trial/acquittal for sake of keeping the assignment on track.)
As the National Basketball Association’s free agency period reaches a frenzy and players are signing new contracts left and right, teams who fared poorly last year are especially hoping to land a difference-maker in the open market. Unaccustomed to this bottom-feeder madness are the Los Angeles Lakers and their surefire Hall of Famer, Kobe Bryant.
Bryant’s career stands out as among the best of his generation. He has won five championships, is third all-time in regular season scoring, is among the top scoring players of all time and his astonishing 81-point game of 2006 is likely the closest any modern NBA player could hope to get to Wilt Chamberlain’s storied 100-point outburst. However, at 36, he is an old man for his sport. He has yet to fully recover from a catastrophic injury in 2013, and his team is in shambles. Even if he has returned to form as a player, his recovery remains an unproven quantity until he proves he can still play, and his infamous intense attitude is proving to be detrimental to attracting free agents to join him. Essentially, Bryant is on the edge of an identity crisis.
He is not likely ever to score like he used to, and he is almost certainly not going to prove to be the unstoppable force of his prime again. What does a player do when he is not what he used to be, but can’t bring himself to retire yet? It is time for Bryant to consider what his identity not only as a basketball player is, but as a person.
To end his career the way he wants to (by winning a sixth championship), Bryant must alter his view of himself. He must realize that everything can’t run through him anymore, and that he will have to share responsibilities and attention. He must realize that it is unlikely he’ll be able to maintain the torrid pace and intensity of even a few years ago. However, this is all anathema to what he was before. He became a great player through his intensity and willpower to overcome any and all obstacles placed in front of him. He cleared his own path to victory.
Even artists must consider altering what might be a core tenet to find a successful path. Whether it be garnering the attention of curators, or cracking the puzzle to creating truly meaningful and great work, one might find it takes doing something previously thought unacceptable. And before the cries of “I won’t sell out!” begin, it should be noted this isn’t always negative – often those limitations are based in flawed pride or ignorance. Honest self-assessment is a must. There is more than one path to fulfillment.