Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Kobe Bryant's "Dear Basketball"

I didn't pay attention when Kobe Bryant retired from the NBA. I am a Chicago fan. I lived wonderfully through many magical seasons of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. I think that I'm good for NBA basketball after that experience. Sure, I catch some of the games, and I pay attention to what the Chicago Bulls are doing by reading the newspaper. Honestly, my impression of Bryant was never a very good one.

But he won an Oscar for Best Short Animation. I had no idea. I had to check it out.

I teach boys. Boys who dream of bigger and better, but the world seems to have forgotten them and left them behind without any intention of picking them up in the draft ... of life. And that's devastating because I have found them to be so much like any other boys that I have taught in my career who, unfortunately, live a step away from anything that could pull them in. In class, we have just finished reading John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Most of the boys have never read a book in its entirety, and we do have to read aloud to capture the range of levels in the classroom, but the strategies that I employ for students to analyze the novel are rigorous. I taught if for the first time last year to a different group of guys, and I was surprised at the end of the novel when we watched the film version (a treat for having finished the book) when they yelled out when John Malkovich and Gary Sinise first appear on the screen, "We thought that they were black!" And we did talk at length about the norm of racism in America at that time even though it takes place in California, not the South, and they knew that the character Crooks is black and not allowed to live in the bunk for that reason. Though he's not supposed to, Lennie visits Crooks in his room when the guys have gone out because he is lonely. Lennie doesn't know that as a white man, he's not to enter the black man's space. My students know this, but they still identified the main characters as black. They see the struggle and relate to it. This year's group had the same reaction.

Which brings me to Kobe's poem. The Principal visited our class to observe my co-teacher. The kids, as usual, were engaged and dynamic. The co-teacher wanted to treat them because they made him look good. We can't do cookies or much else. I don't want to play an hour of Chief Keef music videos on YouTube, which I could probably do, so I looked to Kobe.

And he was more than I could imagine a Los Angelas Laker to be. He articulated his dream of basketball and the respect and love that he has for the game ... for himself ... so beautifully. The boys hadn't heard of it, which was so surprising as they all follow the NBA and wishfully think that they too could be NBA players even though the odds are against them even graduating from high school, some even elementary school. I've printed out the poem to bring to class tomorrow. Often, I have the boys write their version of the story like they did with the dream that Lennie and George have in the novel. So many of their dreams are not about living off 'the fatta the land,' but getting out of Chicago and being safe. With Kobe's poem, I want them to think about what their 6-year old selves dreamt about ... if they can remember it. Maybe, in recalling it, they can find it again and the strength to conquer the mountain that is in front of them to find their 'fatta of the land' and a place where "I never saw the end of the tunnel/ I only saw myself/ Running out of one," as Kobe writes.

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