Find your court

kobe jordan.jpg
Zero. That’s the number of points I scored the entire summer while playing in Philadelphia’s Sonny Hill Future League when I was 12 years old
— Kobe Bryant

In the final days of 2017, the LA Lakers held a ceremony to retire not one, but two of Kobe Bryant’s jerseys. As I watched the spectacle at the Staples Center, I remembered a game a few years ago, when Kobe Bryant rose to third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. In doing so, he surpassed his childhood hero, one of the greatest, most recognizable athletes of all time - Michael Jordan. 

Growing up in the 90s, everyone wanted to “Be Like Mike.” Most of my friends wore the famous red ’23’ jersey to school. We watched in awe as Jordan flew past his opponents, dunking the ball in unbelievable ways. We spent countless hours on the court trying to replicate those moves - most of the time we failed. With time, I became good enough to be picked first in pick-up games on the school court. Kobe took it much further, though it took years of dedicated work, thousands of missed shots, pain, failure.  

 “Zero. That’s the number of points I scored the entire summer while playing in Philadelphia’s Sonny Hill Future League when I was 12 years old.”

“I considered maybe just giving up basketball and just focusing on soccer. Here’s where my respect and admiration for MJ was forged. I learned that he had been cut from his high school team as a freshman; I learned he knew what it felt like to be embarrassed, to feel like a failure. But he used those emotions to fuel him, make him stronger, he didn’t quit.”

Kobe Bryant - Dec 15, 2014

Now imagine a scenario where a 12 year old Kobe decides to become a basketball player. He asks a teacher for advice on how to go about it, and he hears the following:

“It’s wonderful that you want to be a basketball player, Kobe! Here’s what you do:

First, you should take this class on the Rules of the Game. 

Then there is History of Basketball, followed by Ball-bounce Physics Theory, and Optimal Shot Angles 101. Make sure you pay attention, because you need to get good grades on the tests! 

If you get good grades, then you can go to Basketball College where you will learn about Advanced Shot Angles. You will also participate in computer simulations, and occasionally go to watch a real basketball game. Then comes the most exciting part. You graduate! Now you know everything there is to know about basketball. Grab a ball and give it a shot!”

If this sounds crazy - it is. No one would dream of playing in the NBA having only learned about the game, without learning the game. However, when it comes to most other professions, this is exactly how we approach education. (I understand that in some cases this is necessary. I don’t know many people that would be comfortable with having their surgeon or dentist be an aspiring high-schooler. I hear this straw-man argument all the time.) We expect our high-schoolers to not only learn this theory without practice, but to be excited about it as well! We wonder why “kids these days” lack motivation. Employers lament the “skills gap” of students with excellent grades.

Students know a lot about subjects, but lack real experience. (You’re supposed to get that “on the job,” by the way.) My question is, if that is the case, why wait? 

Why isn’t there a basketball court equivalent for other professions? A place where students could express their creativity in pursuing interests. A place where they can feel safe to “miss a thousand shots,” to fail, but have a chance to come back stronger, to learn from mistakes.

What would this place look like?