San Antonio, where being a borderline sociopath isn’t everything
Eric Freeman has penned the latest chapter in what will, inevitably, be an anthology called Kobe Bryant’s Jordanesque Desire to Win. Or some such. It’s one of the better chapters, so if you haven’t already read it, saunter on over to Ball Don’t Lie.
Freeman’s take is really Bryant on Bryant, and winds up somewhere between the ontological necessity and genetic predisposition camps. Kobe does what Kobe does because he is who he is.
Freeman writes, “Having a bordlerine-sociopathic need to win has been a fact of his [KB's] basketball being for his whole life. It’s second nature on the court, existing beyond rational motivation.”
That borderline-sociopathic thing gets a lot of play. Danny Ainge once used it to justify overpaying Brian Scalabrine. Scalabrine, you’ll remember, is member of the Michael Jordan Brain Map Club. Scal is a killer.
I’m not knocking a desire to win. In fact, I think there is some virtue in the Jordan/Bryant pursuit of excellence, although I tend to see it more of a sociological thing and less about how someone is “wired.” I’m more inclined toward Rene Girard than Jonathan Niednagel, but I recognize there is a spectrum of consideration here, and it’s not simply a question of nature vs. nurture.
It’s undeniable that a profound desire to win is often what separates elite players from great ones. But I don’t believe that the Jordan/Bryant trait is necessary for success.
Tim Duncan is, some would argue, the best player of his era — let’s not get hung up on that, let’s just say Duncan is historically great — but he isn’t of the sociopath ilk, unless you imagine him as some cruel, calculated Anton Chigurhish madman.
Tim Duncan is bereft of psychobabble. And he doesn’t really fit into the win at all costs model which is popular to mythologize. There is no mythology surrounding Duncan, other than the robotic, binary code, beep-beep gag. And if there is a pathos at work, it’s that Duncan is cerebral and hard-working, but those traits are common to success, and there is nothing especially unique about either as they relate to people who excel their contemporaries.
This doesn’t mean that Tim Duncan is any less concerned about winning — four championships and an all-time great win percentage (regardless of sport). But his path to the winner’s circle is different. No halftime rah-rah, motivational spiels, or primal chest-thumping. He’s never intimated that some unquenchable desire to win resides deep within his soul. Winning does not flow from who Tim Duncan is, it flows from what he does.
Tim Duncan is every bit the model of excellence that Kobe Bryant is, but his approach is not the same. There is a lesson in this, I think. It’s not always necessary to Be Like Mike in order to achieve like Mike. And Tim Duncan and the Spurs are too often forgotten as a commendable, even fascinating, approach to winning. It’s something we should think more deeply about.