08 September 2020

From better to way better

The Los Angeles Lakers held a 3-1 lead over the Portland Trailblazers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs when the brutal shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin derailed the season. It is not certain if the Lakers will return to the court.  

At that point the Lakers looked quite the champion team they were expected to be after hiring Anthony Davis. And yet, on January 3, 2020 the Lakers lost to the Blazers on a night that LeBron James shot 9-for-22 and had five turnovers. All of that went unnoticed for it was the first time the Lakers played after Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna tragically died in a helicopter crash along with seven others.

The 4th game of the series against the Blazers was played on August 25th, a couple of days after what would have been Kobe’s 42nd birthday. The team had a moment before the game.  

It was just 24 hours after ‘Kobe Bryant Day’ declared as such by Los Angeles and Orange County in honor of the two numbers Kobe wore during his career, 8 and 24. The Lakers also watched Nike’s latest spot, titled ‘Better’ where rapper Kendrick Lamar describes ‘Bryant's incessant drive to achieve self-actualization through constant improvement.’

Better. That’s a word to remember. Giannis Antetokounmpo may have not watched the Nike spot. He knew of Kobe (who in the NBA did not?) though. On Kobe Bryant Day, coincidentally, Antetokounmpo was declared the NBA’s ‘Defensive Player of the Year’ in a landslide vote.

Antetokounmpo believes that this has been his best year. He believes however that he can get better.

‘Obviously, I think I can get way better. I can be more active. I can block more shots. I can be in the passing lanes more…but you can always get better. You can always improve.’ Kobesque. 

It brought to mind a television interview I watched way back in 2006. A girl was featured in a sports program. She was the runner up at that year’s National A Chess Championship. Sachini Ranasinghe was barely 14 at the time. All I remember from that interview is Sachini expressing the view that she was not happy with the outcome. She wanted to be better. She wanted to be champion and not runner up.  

Now someone might have thought the kid was being a tad arrogant, but she had the right mind set. She had her ups and downs, coming third the next year and eighth in 2008. Between 2009 and 2013 she won the national title four times, coming second in 2010. She competed in the Men’s Nationals the following year. Since then Sachini’s performance has been checkered: fifth (2015), fourth (2016), tenth (2017) and eighth (2019. She was second in 2018 though and this year she won the Women’s Grand Prix title quite comfortably. 


What’s creditable is that she has consistently made it to the National A and has already represented Sri Lanka in 4 Chess Olympiads: 2010 (Russia), 2012 (Turkey), 2016 (Azerbaijan) and 2018 (Georgia). She would probably have made the team in 2014 too had she opted to play in the Women’s National A. She also holds the distinction of being Sri Lanka’s first Women’s International Master (WIM).

She’s not done. She competes fiercely. She takes victories in her stride and is quite gracious in defeat. She simply wants to be better. Back in 2016 she was already challenging herself. She still does. That’s what Kobe did. That’s what Antetokounmpo does. That's what separates the good from the great.

In a sense it is a simple enough formula: go from better to way better. Sachini is already a veteran in a field where most of the competition comes from players still in school. Sachini, like Vineetha Wijesuriya (who won in 2006, by the way) and her older sister Suneetha, just don’t give up. They fight. They always aimed for ‘better.'

Other articles in the series titled 'The Interception' [published in 'The Morning']
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