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Sherman Alexie on aging, and Kobe Bryant

4/11/2011

Kobe Bryant Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

The mighty thrills of NBA basketball never last forever.

Writer Sherman Alexie spends a lot of time thinking about basketball and some time thinking about aging. Both ideas appear in this poem, inspired by Kobe Bryant:

Sonnet, with Kobe Bean Bryant

1. My friend, X, who played D1 basketball, and was the last cut during his only NBA training camp, hasn’t shot a basketball since he retired. 2. For a few years, all of his friends tried to get him to run in their pick-up games, but he refused. 3. “I hit a jumper over Shawn Kemp,” he said to me. “Just one. But how could it get any better than that?” 4. What he was really saying: “Sherman, no matter how many times I score, easily and repeatedly, on you, it will never have the same magic.” 5. As far as I know, he doesn’t have any regrets. 6. He’s a multi-sport athlete now, running ridiculous distances through the desert and swimming epic lengths in the water. And God knows what other medieval tortures he’s putting himself through. 7. During his playing days, he invented a training game where he’d dribble full-court, pull up for a jumper at the top of the key, grab the rebound, make or miss, hit a lay-in, then dribble full-speed back the other way, and do the same routine on the other basket. He would do this until he vomited. Then he’d drink water, rest a few minutes, and go, go, go until he vomited again. He would do this for five or six hours at a time. 8. Have you ever done anything with such passion? 9. And here, I think of Kobe Bryant, who plays basketball with a singular ferociousness. 10. I am not a fan of the man, as a human or as a player, but I respect and fear him, in the same way that Luke Skywalker respected and feared Darth Vader. 11. Every narrative needs a villain. 12. But I suspect that Kobe loves nothing so much as he loves playing basketball. And playing it at the highest level imaginable. He is better at this one thing than all but three or four other people who have ever lived. It could be argued that he is the very best basketball player who has ever run the court. 13. What will he do once he is not better than everybody? When he is not the best player in the league? When he’s not even the best player on his team? When he is utterly dominated by some younger and superior kid? 14. O, Kobe, when your playing days are done, I wonder if you’ll also be running in the desert, not with passion, but with the fear that you’ll never find where it ends.