26 January 2023

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

Tony Courseault, my friend who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, is not just a basketball fan, he’s an astute student of the game. He knows history and he knows that this history is racist. He knows that the present is racist too. His observations on the way certain coaches are given a pass when their teams fail and others are vilified can in fact be extrapolated to how racist the United States of America is.  

Tony and I were students together way back in 1994-95 in South Central, Los Angeles, which is the time I became a fan of the LA Lakers. Tony had been a Laker fan for much longer, but this doesn’t mean he will not go easy on the team, the players including the stars, the coach and the management. In fact he is extra-hard on what he calls ‘My Lakers,’ who, by the way, have caused many fans much grief over the last decade or so.  

Tony and I watched and enjoyed the Lakers of the Shaq-Kobe years at the turn of the millennium. We lost touch at the time of the Kobe-led championship runs  from 2008-2010, and when we reconnected it was mostly grief, apart from Covid-truncated 2020 when the Lakers of LeBron James beat the Miami Heat.  

So we’ve talked about hoops or rather Tony has said much and I’ve done a lot of listening. He taught, I tried to learn, to put it another way. We have celebrated the victories, entertained hopes and watched them being scrambled beyond recognition, ranted and raved about players, coaches and management, and consoled ourselves by discussing hoops in general, the exploits of teams progressing towards the finals and compared the greats.

All such discussions were suspended for several weeks in January 2020. I still remember waking up to a text from Tony three years ago: ‘Kobe is dead, I can’t believe it.’ Kobe was just 42 when he, along with his daughter and a few others, died in a plane crash on that fateful day, the 26th of January, 2022. It plunged the basketball world into an unprecedented period of disbelief and sorrow.

Kobe Bryant has always figured in GOAT (Greatest of All Time) debates with regard to basketball. Right now, it’s all about LeBron James, who is having a stellar season at the ‘ripe old age’ of 38, averaging more than 30 points per game and on pace to break the all-time scoring record held for 40 years by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) sometime in early February. The GOAT debate in any sport never reaches conclusion, that’s a given.

Kobe was great. There’s unanimous agreement on this and that should suffice. He’s among the greatest to have played the game, this too is acknowledged. And, like all greats, he had an exceptional work ethic. He pushed himself beyond belief. In his words, whenever he noticed something missing in his game, he not only worked on correcting the particular flaw, but he climbed ‘Goat mountain.’ He went to the greats, studied their games, sought and obtained their advice and applied them. He got better.

Not too long after Kobe died, I wrote about these Goat Mountain visits: “Kobe visited GOAT Mountain. Now that alone won’t do, obviously. You need focus. Discipline. Exercise. Fellow travelers on the path to greatness. Great teachers. The GOATS are there, but there are not hands-on teachers. They inspire and spending time with them or even being in their presence can fuel the determination to become better at what you do. However, for a variety of reasons it’s not everyone who pencils in ‘Visit GOAT Mountain’ in the must-do notebook.  Kobe did.  It must have helped.”

So this is not a basketball story. It’s more than that. Three years later, there will be some talk of Kobe, obviously less than before. When LeBron passes Kareem, there will be GOAT-talk and maybe Kobe will figure in some way. LeBron himself has at times spoken of Kobe as ‘The GOAT.’ LeBron has learned from Kobe. His work ethic has been no less spectacular. He visits GOAT Mountain frequently enough as almost all great people, in and out of sports, do from time to time.

Rapper Kendrick Lamar observed, Kobe had ‘an incessant drive to achieve self-actualization through constant improvement.’ Perhaps, then, this is the greatest tribute anyone can pay Kobe Bryant: work. Work hard. Just work hard to go from average to good, good to better and from better to way better. Tony would concur, I’m sure.

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below] 


Other articles in this series:

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart The allegory of the slow road





Anonymous said...

Thank you. I am not a basketball fan But I read this with interest. I liked the humanity seeping throughit

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I am not a basketball fan But I read this with interest. I liked the humanity seeping throughit