Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bryant's Song

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

-T.S. Eliot

Does this quote carry any weight in explaining the circularity of Kobe Bryant? Has the narrative arc of his career been spurred by a compulsion for 'exploration'? Can we say, with a straight face, that here stands an iconic, prodigious figure resembling something out of the bildungsroman genre? That we've been unknowing witnesses to a cathartic coming-of-age?

It's a tough swallow. The irrepressible arrogance can be a bit too lustrous, distracting from what may or may not be the 'real' story. But these playoffs are marked by a heavy atmosphere of fate, and the only character who seems to move with any fluidity inside the gravid climate is number twenty-four. How else to account for his self-effacing turn in game 5, ceding to teammates and functioning as a decoy when the situation seemed to call for complete control? Whence this faith? Wherefore the self-awareness, the intelligent reduction? To say Kobe is different than the young man who found immediate success and won three titles is a bit too obvious; inevitabilities like age, time, and a changing cast ensure that transformation. But it might also be true that he's metamorphosed from the taciturn prima donna who lost sight of the greater scheme just twelve months ago.

The body language makes its own argument. Yes, there have been moments of regression, when the moody superstar becomes a self-contained cyclone of anti-chemistry. But now they seem like an exception; days ago, I called the documentary "Kobe Doin' Work" garbage, a judgment I'm mostly satisfied in upholding. Nothing is that true without being false. But the manufactured reality seems to be approaching a lesser accuracy. Call it self-manipulation if you want; the impromptu strategy sessions, the inclusiveness, the offensive wisdom, the defensive augurs a new day for the Lakers. They stand poised to defeat a superior team, and may have to do it again if they advance. Success will depend on the strength of the premise- has Kobe's exploration led him back to a place of enlightenment, where the arduous process of winning a championship is illuminated, and a path chosen?

To date, the syllogism has borne the dense, precipitous weight of month-long testing, and parsed with a lucid aplomb. Somewhere in the forthcoming stress, a lasting answer will emerge.

Tomorrow, a magnum opus (I hope) on the French Open, and next week it's back to the Yankees. And if you feel like laughing, or just reading something that makes me laugh, please click this.

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