Basketball positions are the names by which we call any player. Just as a rose by any other name would swell as sweet, a lanky 7-foot German would shoot as sweet by any other positional designation. They’re terms and notations that matter to others, but should hardly matter much to the players themselves. After all, it shouldn’t matter much to Chris Paul what position someone thinks he plays, as long as he’s busy doing what Chris Paul does: dominating basketball games.
Then again, it’s foolish to ignore just how loaded positional terminology can and has become. Part of the reason why re-defining positions is so alluring in the first place is the ability to clear the air of positional expectation. ‘Point guard,’ carries with it an arbitrary set of expected, predefined abilities, and our (our meaning the collective who creates, consumes, and reflects on the sport in just about any capacity) willingness to malign players who don’t color within the lines of those designations is nonsensical.
For those who have followed along through the first two posts, this line of thinking is nothing new. However, the weight of positional expectation adds another interesting party to these discussions: the players themselves. While positions shouldn’t theoretically matter to the players, the fact that their position is so often used as an evaluative criterion gives them reason enough to be interested. I’m not saying that Jason Terry is going to stop by the comment section for a chat, but the opinions of the players have a place in this process, and it’s a mishmash of perspectives that’s hard to encapsulate.
Kobe Bryant has seen the future, and it is … him. Or something close to him. Speaking to the media during his World Basketball Festival appearance at Harlem’s Rucker Park last weekend, Kobe said the influence of international players in the NBA has helped create a “hybrid” culture, where players of all sizes possess skills in all areas and can conceivably play any position on the floor.
“That’s the one difference I’d like to see us kind of shift to,” Kobe said.
Bryant’s vision of a world with positional nebulousness is nice. Beautiful, in fact. A universe where all ballers can play in perfect harmony, stand as equals, and worry not over the endless criticism regarding their positional performance. That’s the endgame of all of this, and the fact that Kobe sees it too is a positive sign. Positions as we know them aren’t quite dead, but when one of the league’s pillars decrees them unworthy from atop his ring-and-trophy-adorned tower, people would be wise to listen.
Bryant is far from infallible, but he’s one of the sport’s more active scholars. He knows where this game has been and where it’s headed, and he has an intimate look into the eye (or rather, an eye) of the storm, to boot. From Pau Gasol to Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown to Ron Artest, and Lamar Odom to Kobe himself, the Lakers have a lot of versatile talent that evades convention. The entire league has a lot of versatile talent that evades convention, and that’s something both you, I, and Kobe can agree on.