Waiting for Kobe Bryant
If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. – KB24 , Los Angeles Lakers
How much longer? Hm, just one more hanging, from-behind-the-backboard jump-shot. Check. One more game winner. Check. Another play-off performance for the ages. Alright.
I just did it. Everybody is a believer now. Five rings, a full hand of championships. Isn’t that enough?
A little more. Come on. For history’s sake. One more answer to one more question at the news conference. Guys, please! Not again.
Again. One more time, just one season. Black mamba, killer. The 100-point game. Voila! Ring Six. Done. Happy?
Ugh. Almost. One last time. One. Ring Seven. Check.
Take 23, add one: Mamba becomes GOAT.
No more. Basta!
[Notes for a brief fragment: The problem of how to categorize a Sri Lankan Dipsomaniac on Tiger Plaza: is he a tourist, a hard-working-poor laborer at the local Indian Restaurant, an immigrant fallen on hard times … in any case a liminal figure that confuses the seemingly clear-cut typology of the plaza….]
Let me attempt the most difficult part first: the outwards appearance of the man. A dark blue jacket with many pockets, grey dress pants [very worn, pants that can be passed down from one generation to the next, that look beaten but not like those of a vagrant], the shoes I cannot remember, a blue-and-white striped shirt or perhaps just a blue shirt, which once-upon-a-time could have been worn to a job-interview but now has become a signifier of a menial job [in my fuzzy view]. This is only the outermost hull, adorned with splotches and long-due for ironing but is the easiest [though difficult to remember] thing to describe. If one misses a thing or two, I believe, it will not be held against one as immoral, except if one happens to be dealing with Fashionistas, the flag-waving fascists of fashion. Yet, I am not saying that clothes and sartorial codes are unimportant, no, never. The thing is that our [German or Swiss] saying has got it wrong [or inversely incorrect] “The dress does not ‘make’ people, they make themselves. Then choose their clothes accordingly.” Or to put it another way, no matter how much we dress up, we always remain naked.
The man had/has very dark skin. If I were to add a tag to his cloud it would read: South Indian/ Sri Lanka. Which, though in that region of the world it can be a matter of life or death, with us here in Lucerne, it is just a description. One would then go on to discriminate A) Tourist B)Immigrant C)From Baselstrasse. I stereotype even if I will rarely acknowledge it. Sometimes one stereotypes because one is a mean prick, other times because, as Clooney put it “it’s faster” and still other times [I find this interesting] because “doing something is better than doing nothing”.
He had a potbelly, stretching his shirt. The top of his head was bald in a steak-sized patch but the rest of the her, slightly curled, ended about two fingers’ widths above his shoulders. He was smoking a cigarette, the smoke of which actually had a blueish tint. I don’t believe in “blue” smoke but this smoke of his seemed to fit the description. His free hand was kneading the muscle just above the knee and to his subjective left there was a big, black, stuffed backpack. Nylon. Somewhere in this image that I remember of this South Indian/ Sri Lankan blue-collar worker there was also a can of cheap beer. If he was really sucking on a cig and massaging his thigh, the silvery-blue can must have been on the wooden bench beside him.
I clearly recall thinking: «Oh now here look at this guy, he does not fit in the established order of the Tiger Plaza or Lion’s Square. He could be a tourist, he could be a hand at one of the local restaurants, he could be a rara avis alcoholic.» The alcoholics, at least the “North Coast” cluster, makes their camp under a concrete stand right next to the parking lot for tourist travel buses [which in Swiss are called “Cars”]. I often find myself wondering what they are debating about in such voluminous voices: the best alcohol/francs ratio of the different beers, liquors and ciders; the past, when everything was better; the foreigners that are infiltrating Switzerland through this exact square, which receive better treatment than they themselves, who are, after all, Swiss citizens; the why and exact how of the UBS financial crisis and why futures and derivatives in the long-term will be the downfall of an untenable, immoral system of global finance [hollering, these alcohol-sick people, with great gusto quotes from David Harvey, J. Stiglitz and “A Demon of our own Making”]; pointing to the beloved fact that everyone has to do battle with their own demons; trying to convince each other which weekdays and times of day the soup kitchen serves up its tastiest meals; the dozens of different ways that it sucks being homeless in late fall and winter and early spring; etc. It is clear the dipsomaniacs have very lively conversations, they have so much to talk about: words are for free and so are thoughts.
But the man with the bald patch and black backpack was not sitting amongst them: they face north, up the couloir of office buildings, away from the lake so that they can survey, at all times, the touristic cargo being dumped. While he was facing what I think should be West, at the very tip of the stand where one can look across the street and watch the in-/outflow of the small shopping center and study the societal patterns of people waiting for public transport.
Sitting there with an expression of what looked like being at peace with himself, another actor on the infinite stage of life, enjoying his smoke, exhaling it blueishly. Self-sufficient. I knew I would try to make more sense of him, against every possibility of doing so. Just a man in a few ill-defined moments before he goes home to his children and wife [who doesn’t get home until 10, tonight, because she is working the B shift].
For sure she has a better ranking, so it’s her turn to go and take this trophy, but tennis is a sport – so in the sport, you never know what’s going on
Francesca Schiavone, [on Sam Stosur, before the Roland Garros Final 2010]
There is existentialism in sports. Athletic competition do not usually generate any specific meaning in and of itself, that is there is no specific meaning in the actions other than the following the rules and trying to win. [The action per se, without the associated and certainly deep history of a club or fans or single players.]
Yet sports gets at one of the most basic questions of existence, that of the will. Does it triumph or is it defeated? Success or frustration? The ultimate purpose of athletic competition is clear at all times: to win. There is also the importance of “fair play” and playing a “nice game” or having fun but without winning/loosing no spectators will rally to the support of A, B or C, no league will have a season, no race a Victor.
To say “I play to win” is self-evident in competition, yet it is a statement repeated almost ad infinitum by athletes. It means to defeat the [extended cast of] adversaries [especially the self] and in a certain regard is the closest one can come to say “I want to kill”. To kill is to finish for all times, to win is to finish for now and resume later. In a W one only wants one’s will to prevail, one only wants to frustrate the adversary’s movements, not his or her life-force. And also, there is a higher, transcendent level of sportsmanship that does not exist in mortal combat: the goal of having a high-class game or match or competition, irregardless of which will wins ultimately. This is the synergy of competition where the opponents should be just about equally matched so that only that day’s form and will to win and sheer luck will decide the outcome.
And the fascinating thing about competitive sport is that, while is so fundamentally existentialist, in an active way [Why, oh why, do I have to kick/throw/shoot this ball yet again? For the millionth time?] It has the good grace of rarely explicitly touching upon this question. Indeed, frequently it makes a violent stand to be apolitical, untouched by the mundanity of humankind’s daily tribulations. Just the frustration and the success of the will, win you feel good, loose you feel crap. Or at another level: prepare well, give your best effort, feel great. The emotions that athletic competition give rise to then are elation from victory and discontentment from defeat. And it is often when it tries to take a philanthropic stance, that it veers off into the deeply patronizing/arbitrary/ludicrous: “I will donate a 1’000$ to Chinese child laborers for every ace I hit in the course of this tournament”.
This is not at all a call for sports, especially athletes or teams, to be apolitical and pretend that there are not numerous issues of sexism, racism, etc. It is to point to the fact that sports is much, much philosophically richer than many of its nonbelievers claim it to be but is often so the degree that athletes compete rather than talk to see who wins or loses because “in the sport, you never know what’s going on”.
“Our philosophy precedes from the belief that sport is an inalienable part of the educational process and a factor for promoting peace, friendship, cooperation and understanding among peoples.” – Juan Antonio Samaranch
Finally the dreadful images which we have been fearing yet awaiting have begun trickling in. The animals of the fragile habitat of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico covered in oil. Unlike in previous spills this time the crude is a deep, rich brown instead of a black slick. For a moment it is possible to give oneself up to the idiotic fantasy that the pelicans and fish and crabs and gulls and tortoise are covered in a beauty mask. One of those new fancy chocolate ones. That these sea-dependent animals, like the prostitute protagonists of Sex and the City 2, have taken a few days off at the spa to rejuvenate their bodies by caking it in some very smooth brown frosting. Unfortunately that is not the case. They are covered in the crude of the sunken “Deepwater Horizon”, that has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for weeks now, millions of liter of «ancient sunlight».
From the media reports it looks like this will be the biggest ecological catastrophe in the history of humankind, worse and more far-reaching even than Tschernobyl and Exxon Valdez, though there are the two WWII nuclear holocausts to keep in mind. The calamitous spill is both horrifying and fascinating: the first due to the death and suffering it will inflict not just directly on the marine animals but also on the inhabitants of the Southern USA and predictably East coast Mexico. The second due to its scale and phantasms it gives rise to: supermassive subpelagic oil-gobs sweeping up the Gulf stream towards the Atlantic coasts of Europe; rescue teams in yellow astronaut-like suits trying helplessly to clean-up hundreds of miles of gunked up coastal areas in the sweltering heat of a southern summer; an entire continental body of water turned into a black/dark-brown pool of crud; stupendous hurricanes tearing over the Gulf and northwards, bringing dark, syrupy rain to the MidWest; “Deepwater Horizon” a sci-fi docudrama about the beginnings of the downfall of planet earth.
Seeing the once-majestic pelicans covered in filth I could not help hoping that they would somehow understand their plight and fly away north, while the fish and cetaceans dart away to the south-east and the hard-hit local residents pack up to storm the residences of the BP managerial stratum.