Kobe Bryant, Transcendent Athlete

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S1: The following recording may contain explicit language I can’t get more explicit than May with literal say it may.

S2: It’s Monday, January twenty seventh, twenty twenty from Slate. It’s the gist. I’m Mike PESCA. The defense of Donald Trump began today in earnest. Although since Ernest means a sincere and intense conviction and since Donald Trump’s lawyers were largely insincere in their assertions to avoid conviction, I use the term advisedly.

S1: The Trump defense team is made up of something gold, something new. A few things borrowed from the obscene defense team. And in Ken Starr, a nose that’s blue. You know, bluenose, old expression, kind of a prude. Here is the former president of Baylor, a Baptist school that didn’t allow dancing until 1996, but turned a blind eye towards raping. Here’s him making a case that we have just gone a little too far on this whole impeachment thing.

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S3: Instead of a once in a century phenomenon, which it had been, presidential impeachment has become a weapon to be wielded against one’s political opponent. And her thoughtful Wall Street Journal op ed a week ago Saturday, Peggy Noonan wrote this Impeachment has now been normalized. It won’t be a once in a generation act, but an every administration act. Democrats will regret it when Republicans are handing out the pens. Depends on the signing ceremony. When we look back down the corridors of time, we see that for almost our first century as a constitutional republic, the sword of presidential impeachment remained sheathed.

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S1: I submit that Ken Starr’s strong stance on the sheathing of the presidential sword is exactly why we have had two impeachments in the last 30 years. If I could think of one reason, maybe three reasons why we’ve had two impeachments in the last 30 years. I would say Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton and Ken Starr. That’s about half of the reasons because Bill Clinton should not have been impeached. And the pens o the pens always with the pens for these people. The pen is mightier than the sword. Of course. Ken Starr ever so focused on the pen is. However, despite all the consideration of what the pen is, why the pen is let us in to temptation. And despite the recent revelation that John Bolton heard the president admit a quid pro quo, even with all of that.

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S4: Even with Steve Bannon.

S1: Yeah, Steve Bannon on his radio show today saying that at least four Republicans are going to defect and allow witnesses and he wants to hear it.

S5: We have said from day one, we’re fine with witnesses. breinberg bring but bring Bolton in. We’ll throw in Mick Mulvaney, throw in Mike Pompeo, we’ll give you a vote and blare from from OMB and we’ll throw in all the emails. You get all that. You get all that.

S1: Even with all that news, that does not look good for the president. We must ask, do we need to rebrand our coverage? Should we change the coverage from the impeachment trial and very likely acquittal of Donald J. Trump to something else, lose the very perhaps even lose the word acquittal. I’ve checked in with the editorial board. I have consulted with senior ownership. We have surveyed the University of Chicago’s panel of economists, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and the voters for the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards. And I now present the findings. We right now are witnessing the impeachment trial and still very likely acquittal of President Donald J. Trump. We will let you know when any of that changes on the show. Today, I shpiel about Kobe Bryant and a way to think about a great in one field that makes you think about the nature of accomplishment overall. But first, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa. I always with the Iowa, what is Hiwa have that New Hampshire doesn’t have called. Both have called lots of white people. Both of that, an opaque caucus system that allows for less than 20 percent of the overall population to actually participate. Now, no, New Hampshire has a primary system, which is to say voting just regular normal democracy voting. None of the kibitzing and standing around and walking to the other guy’s bleachers. Also, New Hampshire is a showdown between two neighbors. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Vermont, Bernie Sanders. Sanders won last time and is the big one.

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S4: Michael Bennet is actively campaigning in New Hampshire. That’s actually not the big one. But for everything else that matters in New Hampshire politics, here is Lauren Chooljian, political reporter from New Hampshire Public Radio and host of the podcast Stranglehold. A week and a day after the Iowa caucus will be or caucuses will be the New Hampshire primary. It’s on a Tuesday when regular normal people vote. God bless the primaries. Here to talk about the primaries is Lauren Trillion, who is a political reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio. Lauren is also the host of a podcast called Stranglehold Stranglehold. We talked about it on the just, of course, refers to the fact that New Hampshire has this prime spot in our process and New Hampshirites are very into being the first primary, which means that when a podcast comes out safe from New Hampshire Public Radio, that deeply questions whether New Hampshire should have that hold. People might get upset. I ask Lauren about this.

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S6: In fact, we just had the membership drive the other day. And you know how they people write comments like why I give? And we had many people say that stranglehold was one of their favorite things, which is always very exciting.

S7: That’s good. If this were, I don’t know, 12 years ago and podcasting weren’t the phenomena that it is and you were mostly playing to just or almost entirely playing to a New Hampshire crowd, would this have been the kind of undertaking that this station was eager to commit to?

S6: That is a very good question, because some of what we’ve been doing as we think about looking at this as as an institution has had to look back at our own coverage. And we, too, have done coverage that really was like a oh, how cute is the primary? And so we are just as guilty of what of this guardianship protective nature that that I’ve seen in other organizations. And I think that because we’ve shown that we can do investigative stories, we can tell big stories, that we can do narrative stories that made the newsroom feel like we could take a risk in pulling me off the trail and and investing in a big question like this and looking at the primary in a different way. But I also think that podcasts are a big part of it, because it would be a whole other thing to, you know, where would we have put it, right? I mean, you know, public radio back then was out where where newscasts were by the clock. And I feel like we’ve all started to take a lot of risks lately about where we can put things and how we can tell stories. But I would like to think that, you know, I cherish my colleagues and I think very highly of them. And I’m I’m sure back then what my colleague Josh Rogers was here at that point. And I know that he was thinking critically about the primary back then, too.

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S7: All right. While I have you here. Can you give me some analysis from what you’re seeing in the Democratic race? Who’s connecting? Who’s not? Ways that go beyond what these polls are telling us.

S6: Here’s what I’ll say about that. I mean, when I’ve seen those polls, it lands with what we see out at events where, you know, you go to a Warren event, there’s like 750 people packed into a high school cafeteria. There’s a Buddha judge event where it’s like a thousand people, same cafeteria. So there’s certainly interest in those people. Bernie Sanders events, same thing. Joe Biden, people are interested in seeing them. The thing I always look at, though, is in those same polls, the amount of people who still feel like they could change their mind between now and the primary. There was a scene as some poll in November that said 57 percent of Buddha judge supporters thought they could change their mind and he’s leading in their most recent poll. So I’m always very n-n-no, nervous to say that. Okay, well, that’s the way it’s going to shape out, because I do think that without like buying into the myth that like the flinty New Hampshire voters, like you never know what they’re going to do. But I really do think that people do wait till the last minute. People are exhausted of politics lately. And so they aren’t tuning. Not every single person is tuning in 24/7 to the ups and downs of the race. And you know, what you never know is going to happen between now and then. I mean, I we’ve seen so many people drop out without even being tested in New Hampshire and Iowa that I just feel like it’s so hard to know. But like I said before, I mean, there is certainly interest. And as boring as it sounds, I mean, all the voters that I talked to, the first thing out of their mouths is, well, I just want someone who can be Donald Trump. And like I know we hear about that all the time and we talk about it all the time. But that’s because that is the thing that voters here and everywhere seem to be saying or they are like, yeah, I went to a booth judgment the other day and a woman was like, well, I’m here because he doesn’t seem passionate enough for me. And he seems kind of young, like maybe four more years. But at the same time, I I need to know who’s going to be Donald Trump. So I just want to see what he’s like. So it’s like that’s like the thing still. So I would just say to people, the view from here is that you never can tell like, well, that along with flinty New Hampshire voters, I mean, those are tried and true things to say.

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S4: My boss is gonna kill me for saying that.

S7: Sometimes the results from New Hampshire are downplayed because the person who won was from usually Massachusetts. And so it’s favorite. Davidson, Right. So Paul Tsongas, you know, people didn’t even really. Yeah. Has that when John Kerry won, that was the Dean scream happened. You know, right before New Hampshire and TBD. EDWARDS But it was a little discounted, but it did help him. So if Sanders or Warren do well, what amount of discounting do you think will go on?

S6: Oh, well, if Sanders does well, you know, people are going to be like, well, he should’ve done well. He won last time. You know that a lot of people will say that. Right. And if if Warren wins, people going to say Will Sanders. You know, the fact that Sanders didn’t win is really upsetting for his campaign because clearly he should have won because he won last. You know, I think there’s always something people can say. But I do think there’s still this old adage that that really bears out sometimes where it’s like the person that wasn’t from here. And I do feel like sometimes this kind of belittles the voter, like they’re only voting for a person because they live in the state next door. But I will say that name I.D. is a huge deal. I mean, it is one of the big reasons why Biden is doing really well. Why pick, right? Because people know him or they feel like they know him. But I think that the neighbor thing is only a factor if people are looking for it to be a factor. But it is true that people do vote based on who they know. And so I had talked to Billy Shaheen, who’s been around forever, the husband of Jeanne Shaheen, who’s the U.S. senator from New Hampshire. He also started his his political life from the Carter campaign has worked a ton of Democratic campaigns. And he said that’s the advice that he gives everybody, whether it’s old advice or not, that like if Mayor Pete wins the New Hampshire primary, it is a bigger deal than if Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders wins it. Now, how that will factor into Iowa and what kind of momentum that provides people going forward, I think is still kind of an open question. I should also say that there are a lot of candidates who are not polling very well, who are really banking on a surprise New Hampshire win. I’m talking about people like John Delaney, people like Michael Bennet. They are trying to play like the old New Hampshire strategy of just like posting up here, having a billion town halls like John McCain style and hoping that they can get some last minute momentum from that because they still feel if somebody like that performs better than expectations, that that will push them further even if they don’t win. And those people are also not neighbors. So that’s also, I think, factoring into their strategy, you know, on neighborly, what all they do does say that a long winning answer to say, you know, you can make anything, whatever you think it’s going to be.

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S7: Yeah. Know, I understand why. But the judge is doing well in Iowa. You know, he’s from Indiana and then he talks to a lot of their values. Why is he doing well in New Hampshire?

S6: He’s doing really well with older voters. You know, I’m always surprised to hear how much this like progressive versus moderate debate is really resonating with real people. I tend to believe sometimes that when we talk about this stuff as reporters are in the media, that it’s just our perception sometimes because it just feels like an easy cut to make. But the thing is, there are actually people out here I will like, quote, a different voter from that same Boobage event who said she was literally coming here to Cebu to judge at this Newington College event because she doesn’t think Biden can do it. She just can’t go for Biden. But she thinks that she wants someone who would potentially be more uniting, and she thinks that that person has to be more moderate. And I literally was like, you know, I’m so interested to hear that because I feel like that’s just something that we hear on cable news. And she said, no, she talks to her husband about this all the time. She feels like the best way to beat Donald Trump is with a moderate candidate, can potentially reach out to people who went to Trump but are regretting their decision. And there are a lot of people in New Hampshire who are considered moderates. Like you say, we’re a pretty split state, so that may have something to do with it.

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S7: Also, the rules are the day of election. You can show up to either party, which will probably be to the Democratic Party if you’re interested in having an impact.

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S6: Yes. Yes, exactly. And, you know, I would say politics wise are two U.S. senators tend to be more moderate, lean economy. And so it kind of matches up with a good chunk of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. But I don’t want to say that in totality, because we also have a lot of people here who are progressive. We have a lot of progressive activists who are super active around here. So for me as a local reporter, not just I won’t be just looking for who wins, but how the rest of the vote splits out, because I’ll try to be figuring out what that tells me about what the New Hampshire Democratic Party looks like right now. What your example not to be like super boring and local, but the first congressional district that we had a few years ago was another great framing for that question, because, you know, voters ended up electing Chris Pappas, who was a known quantity, very moderate. And they had a lot of progressive options. A lot of people who worked for the Sanders campaign, a lot of people who were, you know, very big in unions. It seems like the people that New Hampshire people are familiar with that tends to work out well. But it also seems like moderate candidates can have lately done well. So I think that’s what I would say to you. But again, I like hate to really cast and and guess because you just never know.

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S7: And what maybe not a lot of people know is New Hampshire was won by Hillary Clinton, but I believe it was the closest state that she won. Is there any chance New Hampshire votes Trump in 2020?

S6: Well, I will say that President Trump is very popular here. He certainly is popular. And I often look for because we used to have a very moderate Republican style of politics around here, led by some really big political families. I just don’t see a ton of people who, even if they somewhat regret their choice or are disappointed with certain things that the president has done. I don’t often talk to a lot of people who are completely throwing him out and looking for another option. And, you know, maybe I talked to a governor, Bill Weld supporter here and there, but he is very popular. And I don’t know that I could say if he’s certainly going to win or not, because I want to see how the primary shakes out first and how engaged people are after that. But I can tell you, as a person who has tried to cover the Republican Party and how the campaign is shaking out, you know, when Mike Pence came to sign the paperwork to put President Trump on the ballot. I mean, it brought a lot of people out to the statehouse. So, you know, the state Democratic Party here is an extremely strong party apparatus. The Republican Party, not so much. But I do think that they you know, they’ve had some turnover. The leaders of the party now are very big Trump fans. One of them is the former one of the chairman of the Trump Party here in New Hampshire. They’re trying to grow through that popularity of the president. The president came here. He is expected to potentially come here again before the primary. So it could be close.

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S7: Yeah, I mean, sure. Last time it was a vote total was Hillary Clinton got three high 48000 and Donald Trump got three hundred forty five thousand.

S6: And yeah, and I know he definitely views us as like one of the ones that got away for sure. That’s one of the reasons why his boss came Massachusetts.

S8: I think that’s not true. That’s right. We have to say that I could just say it is a punch line. But as he has, he can try to turn a reporter. I can’t let you have that. Yes. Yeah.

S7: And by the way, in case you’re wondering, Gary Johnson, 30000. Jill Stein, 6000.

S8: So, you know, if all the libertarians vote Republican and all the Greens vote them live free or die has got right, baby learn children as a reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio. Thank you, Lauren. Thank you.

S1: And now the schpiel, the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others was, of course, tragic and awful. And most of the tributes to Kobe Bryant have rightly focused on his basketball prowess and some correctly on his post basketball promise. But I do think for non-sports fans who, of course, as humans are saddened by the loss of life, the story becomes after a day, after the initial shock becomes like any other tragedy that affects a celebrity, which is to say, you find it sad and the legacy should be remembered. But the remembrance will mostly be in the field that made them famous and to the people for whom they were important. And that’s fine. I understand that. But I have been thinking about Kobe Bryant’s life. And there are, in fact, a couple aspects that I think are very interesting and shed light not just on him, but his importance maybe in the culture. And he tells us a little bit about our culture. This is, by the way, what I do or what I always used to do as a sports journalist when that was my main job. Now it’s a big part of my job. I am asked to talk about a sports story, but usually to an audience that isn’t necessarily inherently interested in sports. So I will find a way to make it important, not by overhyping it, but to point out something interesting. And I’m going to try to do that now to point out a couple of things in the life of Kobe Bryant that you might not have known. Even if you are the kind of person who hears, oh, Kobe Bryant averaged twenty five point six points a game, and you say, is that a lot? There’s still parts of the Kobe Bryant story beyond his athletic greatness and beyond the horror of his death. That I think I don’t know, just in me at least sparked a little bit of wonder. And like I said for years, this was my job. I worked for NPR. And the way I try to take a sports story and make it interesting is to maybe talk about the personality of the people in the world of sports, maybe how they intersected with culture. I was on MSNBC yesterday and last night talking about Kobe Bryant. There was a social justice twinge to a lot of the coverage that was justified. Kobe Bryant was an important contributor to the overall culture and it was poised to do even more of that. That’s not exactly what I’m getting at, though. Not here to eulogize Kobe Bryant. His greatness in basketball or life for business. It’s not a eulogy at all. It’s an examination. So one of the interesting things about Kobe Bryant was how eclectic his interests were, how curious of a person he was. He wanted to learn everything about a lot of things. And people from all walks of life, from other sports stars to Anna Wintour to authors and musicians, were always in his orbit. It’s apropos for a kid who grew up in Italy and read the Iliad in Latin at age 9. He was a renaissance man. Okay, hold onto that thought. And what that means? Because here’s the other thing about Kobe Bryant, and this is the reason we’re even talking about him. It’s not his innate skills. 6 6 is tall and he had a good shot and a pedigree. His dad was in the NBA, but he was not destined for NBA greatness. But what he was was probably in the 3 to 5 most intense NBA players of all time. We’re talking about Kobe on TV. Yesterday, I caught myself a couple times when I was about to use the phrase killer instinct or death stare because he had his death stare when he held the ball. And he told you, I am going to the basket and there is nothing that you can do to stop me. The defender knew that that was true, as true as anything that had ever been communicated with a pair of eyes. Kobe Bryant was intense. He was unbelievably focused. Here he is telling the Knuckleheads podcast about when he was an 18 and 19 year old player who was first breaking in on the Lakers.

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S9: But going to the Lakers and playing behind Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel taught me a lot. Byron Scott was there as a man watching Shaq, kind of starting to figure things out a little bit, made practices very competitive. And I had to do a lot. I had to try to be perfect, just do damn floor, because if I made a mistake, coaches yanking me out. I’m so understanding what that feels like every day in practice. It’s gonna be a war because I’ve got to prove that I deserve to play. I deserved to be here. Every play matters. And so that raised me that we missed because I was taught like that, too.

S10: If you want to play and you want to play during game day, you show and in practice.

S9: Man, listen, our vets will come to practice and they win one practice back the backs, whatever immune deficiency. Not our problem, Audie. Scrimmaged right now, you know. Oh, yeah. MAN 2 We’re talking. And then we would drive him crazy. But, you know, we were just young and wanted to prove ourselves and you were in the way.

S1: So focus single minded only he. Wasn’t single-minded. He was a renaissance man. Remember, he was simultaneously the most focused player in the NBA and the one with the greatest scope and maybe the one who had the most interests away from the NBA. It is unbelievably rare to find that in the same person. Steve Jobs. Edison. Maybe Herman Melville. You hear some stories about musicians like Prince or Pharrell or Bruce Springsteen. I don’t know exactly what it is that allows a person to be both. I do think it’s significant that Kobe was obsessed not just with execution, but with creativity. So creativity in the literal sense, he always made sure to write in between games and during the off season and not go to bars, but write and work on storytelling and communication. But he was also creative in the way he shot or how he guarded opponents. I once interviewed Kobe Bryant’s trainer. Kobe Bryant didn’t just workout hard. He thirsted for ways to workout that no one had ever thought of. I think in general, when we talk about creativity, we make a mistake. We think of it as a blessing or a gift. And maybe it is. But obsessiveness, combined with knowing the value of creativity and creatively pursuing your obsession. Sometimes it manifests itself in a person like Kobe Bryant. OK. Another interesting, very interesting aspect of Kobe Bryant was this is a little bit about his style of play. Bear with me again. If you don’t like basketball, I’m going to expand it outwards. So his style of play represented a little bit of the cultural shift that our society has been experiencing when Kobe was becoming one of the greatest basketball players of all time. The premium, the signature ability, the ability that defined greatness for him was his ability to get a shot off no matter what was in his face. So when I say in his face, defenders back then would get physical hands would be put on the offensive person’s body. He’d be pushed. He’d be shoved. But Kobe developed a litany of skills and shot types to counter all that. He became physically strong. He adapted his shot to the circumstance. He developed a killer. There I go again. Step back. Jump shot that no matter what you threw at him. It would be effective. Now, again, at the risk of losing the non basketball among you, think of it like this. The key to thriving then was to note what the obstacles were, to understand them and to develop techniques to counter those obstacles. You wouldn’t say the obstacles should or could be changed. You would adapt to the environment. All right. As Kobe was playing his last couple years and he got injured, he grew a little resentful of the game. He could hear this in interviews. He called the basketball that was going on then basketball by accident because it wasn’t the basketball he played that what basketball had become was spacing where offenses are designed to get their players wide open, but do it further from the basket. Kobe hated this, that the obstacle became not an opponent who would push you and shove you, but also who you could play with mentally. But the obstacle became distance itself. It’s a little like a member of the old guard or veteran of trench warfare who resented the primacy of aerial dominance. This was a great student of the sport. As great a student of the sport is there ever was. And then the sport changed and it conspired a little bit. And the cognates senti began to say, Oh, that old way of playing basketball. Not as good the skills used to dominate that old way a bit irrelevant. The super smart stats guy would say, you know, Kobe Bryant, sure, he has some good stats, but could he really be great in this era of threes? And without having to go through a litany of hands in his face before he took a two pointer from 19 feet away, which is now the most disregarded shot in basketball? It’s a little like telling Rhoden. Yeah, yeah. But sculpture, we all know now sculpture is not that important. That’s essentially society in a microcosm. Over the last 20 years, like Meghan Daum says Gen X Prize toughness, millennials prize sensitivity I Draymond Green gonna say words. They’re not exactly sensitivity writ large, but what happened was the rules changed, the rules opened up, the rules were redefined and smoothed away the obstacles. And you know, let’s be fair, a lot of those obstacles were native removal, all that defensive hand checking that I described that was technically against the rules. So in many ways, things today are better. But you can see why a virtuoso in an old system might find things worse. When I go home tonight, I’m going to plow through my basketball podcast feed and I’m going to seek out nitty gritty discussions of Kobe as a player and am desperate to hear this point discussed. Can you really tell me that the greatest student and hardest worker and best winner among a generation of basketball players wouldn’t be all that and more now simply because the game changed away from his style? Wouldn’t his style to be to simply understand the rules and dominate however, the game was defined within the rules. So again, when I say my job for a long time was to take sports and explain it in a way that’s meaningful to a non-sports fan, I do that myself. I do this naturally. Maybe that’s why you could argue he’s pretty good at the job. When people talk about a transcendent athlete, what they mean by transcendence usually is very famous to the non-fan or perhaps a fully rounded person. To me, a transcendent athlete is one who illustrates something about the human condition, which is exactly what I look to art for, by the way. And that is the biggest reason why I will miss Kobe Bryant.

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S11: That’s it for today’s show. The associate producer of The Gist is Priscilla, a lobby. She once put up 81 points against the Raptors. They asked her never to return to the Museum of Natural History. Daniel Schrader produces the gist after shooting for air balls against the jazz. He vowed never again to do hard drugs with musicians. The gist I also changed my number from 8 to 24 to honor every day other than the two we put the clock forward or back. And also because I hate the past simple tense of eat hoper adepero Dupré. And thanks for listening.