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An Academic Analysis of ‘Dear Basketball’

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Shocking news from the world of the NBA broke late yesterday when Kobe Bryant released an ode to his favorite past time on The Player’s Tribune.  As with any soon-to-be-classic, it is important that we read, inhale, breath out, and inhale again of the contents of Kobe’s soul.  Not his breath, we know what that smells like.

No, what we as a culture must do is take the soul and the spirit and the psyche and the life-force and the pneuma of the words which Kobe hath bestowed upon us, and we must analyze them.  We must try and fit this gift into the cultural and temporal plane in which we, as a species, nation, and individual find ourselves.  We must answer the eternal question: Dear Basketball?

Overview

Written in November of 2015, “Dear Basketball” is the best and most well-known example of Bryant’s poetry oeuvre.  The poem was written in a time of great personal strife for Bryant, a period in which he’d lost his best friend, talent.

“But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”

With the woes of another crappy Lakers’ season weighing heavy upon his brow, Kobe set pen to paper and composed this masterpiece.

Definitions & Allusions

Line 1. basketball: in this poem, Bryant refers to the sport of basketball as a personification rather than a social construct or sport.  Bryant is quite obviously in love with “basketball,” though it’s unclear as to whether this love is requited or not.

Line 5. game-winning shot: an enigma for most, the “game-winning shot” is that rare success at the end of games of sport in high-pressure situations.  Real world examples are few and far between.

Line 14. the tunnel:  the tunnel clearly alludes to the cycle of life which we all encounter.  As Kobe runs in and out of the tunnel in a perpetual loop, it mimics the circadian rhythm that we, as humans, are subjected to daily.  It… Oh.  This apparently refers to the tunnel at the Staples Center.  Not an allusion, I suppose.

Line 30Laker dream: this is obviously an allusion to the peyote-induced second part of Allen Ginsberg’s poem ‘Howl.’

Analysis

‘Dear Basketball’ covers two major literary themes, Love and the Unremitting Flow of Time.

The former is perceptible in the metaphors and allusions which Kobe drops like Js throughout the verse.  Lines like:

“I fell in love with you.”

and,

“A love so deep I gave you my all –
From my mind & body
To my spirit & soul.”

and,

“As a six-year-old boy
Deeply in love with you”

and,

“You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.”

and,

“Love you always,
Kobe”

hint at Bryant’s love of the personification of the sport of basketball which he invented for himself at an early age.  Bryant doesn’t clearly spell out his obsession though, he builds to it by using classic metaphors like [his dad’s] “tube socks,” “the tunnel,” and “sweat and hurt.”  Through use of these devices Kobe builds up the great love affair of his life and allows us, the reader, to experience this highs and lows of said romance.

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The aforementioned “tunnel” is of special interest.  In the third stanza Bryant writes:

“I never saw the end of the tunnel.
I only saw myself
Running out of one.”

Though the “tunnel” of reference is said to be unending, Kobe is able to picture himself running out of it.  This conundrum can only be explained when one realizes that Kobe is clearly alluding to the famous Allegory of the Cave contained within Plato’s Republic.  Kobe, a classical PG or “philosopher-guard,” is saying that he has escaped this all-containing tunnel which he and we find ourselves trapped in.  As a philosopher, Kobe knows that he is closer to a true perception of reality than those of us who are presumably stuck in the this endless tunnel.

Tied inexorably to this love is the theme of Time, its relentlessness, and Endings.  Kobe clearly recognizes the ending of this epic love affair he’s conducted with this personification of Basketball he’s invented.

“But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”

His heart pounded, mind ground, it’s time to bid adieu.  Yet, using many #LiteraryDevices, Kobe rounds the flow of time, the ending of his romance, and their mutual longings into form.

“And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.”

Words expressing tender emotion have ne’er been more beautifully rendered.  Mamba covers all the bases here.  Good / Bad, all that we have.  The pentameter in this couplet clearly suggests a longing unfulfilled, yet an unfulfillment, a hole, which Bryant has come to terms with.   This ‘giving’ of this ‘all’ flows cleanly into the classic literary countdown used in such poetic titans as Rocket Ship Launch, Bad Guy with a Bomb, and My Burrito in a Microwave.

“:05 seconds on the clock
Ball in my hands.
5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1″

Wondrous.  With numbers falling away as snow from the sky, Kobe / Bryant / Mamba ties his love up with Basketball into a neat little package and gently places the bow.  A piece of literature, so far unparalleled in the history of poems written on November 29th, 2015.  One can naught but gasp with awe at this striking accomplishment.

Also, Kobe is retiring at the end of the season, which means we’ll all have to yell something else during our pick-up basketball heat checks.

 

Article written by Kalan Kucera

So by your account Harold Potter was a perfectly ordinary Englishman without any tendency towards being a Scotsman whatsoever?