Heroes in the NBA

More specifically, hero’s journeys in the NBA.  There have been three events in the NBA in recent weeks that have interesting ties to the hero’s journey.

The draft was on last night and a number of players have just received their Call to Adventure.  As their dreams of fame, success, glory, and money seem a step closer they will need to Cross the Threshold into the big league.  That crossing is regularly a test to insure the hero is ready for the road ahead.  Peter Parker (Spiderman) had a test at his crossing when his uncle was killed due to Peter’s unheroic act.  This showed him that with great power comes great responsibility.  Uncle Ben acted as Guardian Threshold, helping Peter get through.  Similarly these rookies will have guardians in the form of senior players, coaches, owners, and others.

A superb example of the hero’s journey in the NBA is presented by Michael Del Muro at the Bleacher Report.  He documents Kobe Bryant’s journey.  Bryant won the championship with the Los Angeles Lakers this season, which seems to be the pinnacle of his journey.  He began his journey as a high school student with an eye on the prize – glory in the biggest league in the world.  His world was centered on him – he followed the same path as Peter Parker who focused his skills on benefiting himself.  Also like Parker, he had a guardian – Phil Jackson.  Jackson helped him become a better player, but Kobe’s path of trials included individual plaudits, clashes with his team mates, trouble with the law and fidelity, but no championship.  No championship without Shaquille O’Neil that is.  Then Jackson and Shaq left the team.

Kobe endured more tests and trials before reconnecting with his mentor and quickly became the hero.  He was no longer focused on himself – knowing his talent was only one part of success.  He stands now with a championship and the title of best player in the league.  He is self-assured without being cocky.  His personality was in contrast to that of LeBron James, who was too often focused on himself.  We saw LeBron try to win games by himself and fail.  We saw LeBron speaking to a reporter and repeating how amazing his last second shot was.

That leads us to the final link.  Shaq has just been traded to LeBron’s team, Cleveland.  Shaq’s role to Kobe was that of an antagonist and sometime enemy.  He was someone to overcome.  Years later he would play second fiddle to Dwayne Wade, acting as a mentor.  They won the Championship on their second try.

Will Shaq help LeBron James take the next step on his hero’s journey?  And will LeBron be able to move forward when Shaq leaves?  It took Kobe many years and Wade is still looking for the mentor to take him forward.

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