Katie (my daughter) sent me a link to David Brooks’ NYT column this morning, “History for Dollars,” and pointed out how it parallels my heroes post from a while back. She’s right. Brooks talks about the dip the humanities and liberal arts degrees have taken in recent years, how students have abandoned studies that teach them how to immerse themselves in the emotional aspects of life (including language and writing) in favor of specialized careers they hope will pay them mega bucks upon graduation. And surprise, surprise, he even mentions Kobe Bryant in the mix.
The money angle Brooks raises is a topic in itself, and it certainly isn’t confined to college students. Salaries in the NBA have grown to numbers beyond my comprehension—and probably that of old school players like Jerry West, Charles Barkley, Magic, and Bird as well, guys who played basketball because they couldn’t imagine themselves doing anything else. I’m not saying today’s NBA players aren’t worth a lot of money; they have skills that make them stand out from 99.9% of the rest of us, and deserve to be paid accordingly. So no, my gripe isn’t with the annual salaries of $10 to $20 million being shelled out across the league, rather the lack of passion that accompanies the majority of those stellar paychecks.
I can name on one hand the players in the league today whom I feel play every game as if it’s the most important thing in their life at that moment, and, as previously mentioned, Kobe tops my list. He’s the type who would be doing this for free if that’s what it took to play the game. (Kind of like us hapless writers who keep writing for peanuts, hey?) Kobe’s passion for what he does is obvious to anyone who watches him play—and therein, I think, is why he is among the most hated stars in the league insofar as the media is concerned. They just can’t seem to accept the fact that someone could love what he does that much and be the best in the world at doing it. Or, to put it in simple terms: they’re jealous. And that’s too bad for them because they’re missing a once-in-a-lifetime superstar playing at the top of his game, and doing it with an unsurpassed passion that Brooks calls The Big Shaggy. If the Lakers wind up losing again to the Celtics in this year’s Finals, it won’t be because Kobe hasn’t given his absolute very best. As a basketball fan, I couldn’t hope for anything more.