Guest Lecture: The best sermons are lived
We're taking a break from politics for a moment and getting back to the world's greatest sports league, with a closer look at a fascinating development in the history of a fascinating player. This special guest post comes courtesy of bona fide comic book geek Eli Gunn-Jones. But, as the title of this post indicates, we're still watching the convention, and if anything crazy jumps off, you know we're going to be all over it.
A few weeks ago, Kobe prepped for his thirteen-hour flight to Beijing by making an after-hours pit stop at a comic shop to foster his new graphic novel hobby. Boldly proclaiming that he is “into that dark shit,” Kobe allowed the flabbergasted store clerk to steer him towards Garth Ennis’ brilliant, twisted Preacher, new-age noir 100 Bullets, along with a collection of Alan Moore DC Universe tales, among others. If Kobe is the most intriguing figure in basketball, it's largely because of his highly polarizing persona, an all-encompassing public guise that often overshadows, or creeps into, our appreciation of his transcendent play. Condemnable man that chased affable Shaq-Fu out of town, or misunderstood hero who could no longer take The Big Aristotle’s obnoxious postulations? Baller who will never measure up to Jordan, or relentless worker who’s left an undeniable mark on the NBA? Sexual assault-prone scumbag, or repentant man who made one mistake? The sheer volume of controversy Kobe creates is breathtaking.
While the stanch comic connoisseurs among us could argue into eternity whether Kobe’s selections are FD or not (Dark Knight Strikes Again? What is that, post-irony?), the man’s choice in graphic novels is an eerily fitting representation of his duplicitous nature. Ennis’ modern day classic Preacher is rife with the sinister adult material that Kobe professes to enjoy; it follows Jessie Custer, a reverend grappling with his nonexistent faith in God when the spawn of an angel and demon happens to escape from Heaven and merge with his soul. The battle between ultimate good and pure evil within a human body fits Kobe almost too perfectly; part disarming gentlemen, part ruthless egomaniac, but the two opposites somehow manage to complement one another. Most of all, Preacher has a wicked, cynical sense of humor that Kobe must have developed, or at least undoubtedly learned to appreciate, after spending so many years in the unforgiving, harsh spotlight.
Meanwhile, the sheer brilliance that shines through in Alan Moore’s wide-ranging anthology of stories resonates with Kobe’s dizzying command over the basketball court. Kobe’s purchase contains lesser-known stuff: a few Superman yarns, a cutesy Green Lantern one-shot, the obscure Vigilante. No big names like Watchmen, but definitive proof of Moore's ability to impose his will upon the medium like no other. This trait is akin to Kobe's versitale hardwood talents: he fluidly transitions from team distributor to at-will scorer, from affable teammate to lone wolf with a vendetta. For the sake of argument, let's conjecture that Kobe feels a half-realized, hazy kinship with Moore for their common ability to implement the endless array of styles at their respective disposals.
But, per usual with No.-8-turned-24, the ultimate question is one of intent, and the answer makes all the difference. Why has Kobe turned to graphic literature? Does he fancy himself a real-life hero, valiantly coming to the rescue like Spidey swinging in on a webline? Is he drawn to the mature, shadowy material because he's a closet sophisticate with a taste for moral complexity? Or, as the detractors would surely argue, is it a reflection of his pitch-black heart? Or, maybe this is classic front-running, with Hollywood’s parade of blockbusters having piqued KB24's interest in the source material.
But regardless of the motivation, it leaves us all scrambling for an explanation, one that falls back on old assumptions as it reassess them. The comic store clerk’s account is so enthralling precisely because it is both unexpected and refreshing. The greatest flaw of Kobe’s personality, and many superstar athletes for that matter, is the constant aroma of fakery. The transparent press releases, the phony smile-filled interviews, the camera posturing with his adorable daughters—it all comes off as a giant façade. Nobody has a clue which of those characters, if any, is the real Kobe. Which is why, like that candid video of some Team USA players eating at Wendy’s, the notion of Kobe arguing the merits of his favorite Green Lantern or geeking out over Joss Whedon’s stint on Astonishing X-Men, however unlikely, is so appealing.
Baron and Nash’s beach love affair was exhilarating to behold, and these two PG’s are so popular both with casual fans and die-hards because they exude a rarely-witnessed candid sensibility. They are affable, off-kilter, and most importantly, relatable—unfortunately, the exception rather then the rule with hardwood professionals. A short anecdote: I once found myself face-to-face with BD and gushed that his dunk over Kirilenko in the playoffs was the happiest moment of my life. Hyperbole if there is ever an example of one, but Baron responded with a wide, bearded smile and an unsolicited hug.
I picture a hypothetical encounter with the Kobe’s and LeBron’s of the League playing out quite differently. Maybe a forced guffaw and polite fist pound, ready to move on from this forgettable encounter the moment it begins. It doesn’t make them bad people; God knows they need to develop a filter in order to deal with hangers on, shoe execs, industry sharks and the like. But it sure as hell makes me curious what’s hiding under the tarpaulin that makes up their guise. Which, coincidentally, is a cause that falls in step with the loosely defined parameters of FD-ness. That's why Kobe's jaunt into the comic shop is more than mere trivia: It is a glimpse, however fleeting, into the true personality of an otherwise-enigmatic star.