Even if L.A. Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant is innocent-and I hope he is-he's still guilty of ruining himself. My heart goes out to him. What a waste. For he has been smitten by the greatest malady of all, namely, insatiability. When you're one of those guys who has it all-a gorgeous young wife, a beautiful baby daughter, wealth beyond your wildest dreams, the adulation of the masses and the prayers of the multitude-and you're still not satisfied, you've been bitten by the bug and smitten by the serpent.
I refer, of course, to the famous snake of the Garden of Eden.
Once upon a time, a man and a woman named Adam and Eve also had it all. They lived in a world that made Beverly Hills look like a slum. Surrounded by unimaginable beauty, the whole earth was their inheritance. They had each other and they had G-d's living presence. Everything was perfect-roses without thorns, life without death, health without sickness. And amidst all the blessings and bounty they enjoyed, there was still one tree from whose fruit they were not to partake. It was the only thing they couldn't have. Everything else was theirs.
At this point in the story, the serpent appears. He is supremely guileful. His trickery lies in his ability to cause Adam and Eve to focus not on what they have, but on what they lack. Sound familiar? "Ah, you guys think you have it all. But you still can't eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There's still fruit out there that you haven't taken possession of. There are still women you haven't slept with. There are larger homes you cannot yet afford." Obviously, the serpent says to Adam and Eve, and their descendants, there are many things that still lie outside your grasp. Which means that you have nothing.
The serpent's bite injected in them the poisonous venom of insatiability, the inability to every feel satisfied, content, or satiated. They would forever be hungry. They would eat all the world's fruit and still be famished.
And they would suffer from the disease of not appreciating what they had until it was lost. Kobe Bryant is one of their descendants.
There are those who treat their blessings like dust. No matter how much they have, it never quite fills them. And they yearn, hunger, and lust for more.
Even if he did not rape the hotel employee in Colorado, Kobe Bryant admitted to having sex with her, a woman he could not have known for more than a few hours at most. Which means he arrived in Colorado for knee surgery and ended up betraying his marriage.
If his indiscretion involved only infidelity, and not the crime of rape, it will be up to his wife, not us, to forgive the basketball superstar. After all, he is only human. And that's the whole point.
He is not a god, but we treat him as one, as we do most sports superheroes.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, their main sin was to be unsatisfied with the human condition itself, with human limitation. They wanted to be gods. Rather than change the world slowly and incrementally through the awesome power of solitary deeds, they lusted after the power to change it all at once. They rejected being creatures and wished to be Creators. Hence, the serpent says to Eve that if she eats from the tree "you will be like God."
Celebrities like Kobe Bryant are often not satisfied with being mortal. The public treats them like gods and they begin to believe it. And gods make up their own rules.
At his press conference Bryant said that he now has only one wish. If only he could turn the clock back. Alas, that is a power not granted even to the greatest of sports heroes. They are human just like us. And like us they seem to appreciate their blessings only when they are on the brink of forfeiting them. Life, like a basketball game, has a shot clock. And there is no turning back.
The other day I was thinking about where some of my high school teachers were today. It disappointed me that I had no idea. I wondered why I hadn't kept in touch with them. After all, I seem to know where my childhood sports heroes are today, usually degrading themselves by hawking some piece of junk on TV, some painkiller or hemorrhoid cream.
But my former teachers, who earned less in an entire lifetime than Kobe Bryant made in a single month of endorsements, where were they today? My teachers who sacrificed on my behalf, inspired me, and made me want to learn? For the most part, I have no clue. Which makes me part of the problem.
Our role models have become those who conquer the world but fail to conquer their own passions. Our champions have become those who defeat the other team rather than those who fight to defeat evil. Our idols have become those who can fly through the air to dunk a ball, rather than those lofty spirits who soar to the heavens, pulling us along in their trail.
Many American hearts are going out to Kobe Bryant. After all, he seems like an essentially decent man, until now a poster boy for good behavior in the NBA. And we are saddened that he behaved so recklessly. I'm not here to pick on Kobe Bryant. He's not a bad man for stumbling (unless, of course, he is guilty of rape for which he will have to face serious consequences for his actions). Rather, Kobe is just like you and me. Only he can jump higher.
I hope he gets his life back together. I hope he has the courage to admit his mistake, rectify his misdeed, and move on.
But even more than that, I hope the rest of us have the courage to raise the everyday, unsung heroes of daily life to the elevated plane that our sports stars occupy today.