I saw Kobe Bryant on Conan the other night. I've never really liked the 4-time NBA Champion...and I've never been quite sure why. However, in his push up to this year's Finals, several NBA writers hit the nail on the head: Kobe seems to have invented himself as a person; he doesn't seem real. He can't just be. Some have suggested that this is due to the fact that Kobe was groomed for superstardom from a very young age, tagging along with his NBA father (Joe "Jellybean" Bryant) and living in Italy as Bryant, Sr. played there for much of Kobe's childhood. He knew he would play in the NBA as a pre-adolescent, never considered going to college, and had to have his parents co-sign his first multi-million dollar contract (he was just 17 at the time).
Then, in the Western Conference finals, Kobe debuted the "Gosh I'm so intense" face (above left), and the Kobe critiquing hit a new high. Where was this face for the first eight years of his career? Did he practice it in the mirror? Why was he all-of-a-sudden trying to convince us that he was an intense champion? Couldn't his legendary work ethic speak for itself? What was he trying to prove?
And then I saw him on Conan. The musical guest was...you guessed it, Incubus. Well, you only guessed it if you knew that an incubus is a sex god that "lies" with women whilst they sleep. In any event, I thought it was funny that Kobe and Incubus would appear together. Incubus' breakout album is called "Make Yourself." Released in 1999, this excellent album's title track includes the lyrics:
If I hadn't made me, I would've been made somehow...
If I hadn't assembled myself, I'd have fallen apart by now.
If I hadn't made me, I'd be more inclined to bow.
Powers that be, Would have swallowed me up
But that's more than I can allow.
But... If you let them make you, they'll make you Papier-Mache.
At a distance you're strong, until the wind comes
Then you'll crumble and blow away.
As you can see, Incubus is advocating the exact behavior that got Kobe into trouble. This "making yourself" is always a transparent excersise that leads to suspicion and distrust. The truth is that we ARE papier-mache, and when the wind comes, we DO "crumble and blow away." It's also ridiculous to think that "if [we] hadn't assembled ourselves, [we'd] have fallen apart by now." Who among us HASN'T fallen apart, and cursed our "assembler?"
Kobe is a great champion and a wonderful athlete. He must be mentioned amongst the greatest basketball players in the history of the game. And yet, he seems to have few friends. He seems to always be working so hard on "making himself" that he makes those of us who recognize that we are papier-mache uncomfortable. We would rather root for someone who is "like us": ready to crumble and blow away at the coming of the wind.