What if Kobe and LeBron fought to the death? We go inside the mind of the man who's played out that scenario in gory, hilarious detail.
Fan fiction is the last refuge of the talentless or the teenaged. But not this time. "Fan Fiction in the voice of Kobe Bryant" is by an established writer. Karl Taro Greenfeld is good. Like, Best American Sports Writing good.
Here's an excerpt, but, really, go read the whole thing now.
We chose to have our fight to the death in an abandoned factory in China. I flew over in my private jet and made sure I preserved my vital combat energies by abstaining from totally consensual intercourse with my perfect-10 stewardesses.
Instead, I reminisced about other NBA superstars who I have killed in action: Mel Turpin, Joe Barry Carroll, Benoit Benjamin, Stanley Roberts, Arvydas Sabonis, Mike Giminski, Bill Wennington and Edward Martini, who is not technically in the NBA or a superstar but a male nurse I mowed down in an unsolved hit-and-run homicide.
I spoke with Greenfeld about the Mamba, what (if anything) his story means, and the pornographic possibilities of Kobe slash fiction.
Deadspin: So, I have to admit, when I click on something titled "Fan Fiction," I generally don't have high hopes. But usually it's not from an established writer...why did you go that route with this piece?
Karl Taro Greenfeld: But when you click on fan fiction-and why would you ever-don't you secretly hope for something bombastic and insane? I wrote this thing and couldn't think of what else it could be.
DS: I'll just point you to an incredibly bizarre piece of Dirk Nowitzki fiction I found a couple months ago. So, why Kobe? Of all the NBA players, of all the people on earth, why choose to write something through his POV?
KTG: I have a friend, a former editor at SI, and we used to go back and forth about which NBA players would win in a fight. At that point, this was during a Laker-Piston playoff series, we concluded a good fight to the death would be Chauncey Billups and Kobe Bryant, and Kobe would win, because, even if Chauncey managed to kill him, chop him up and feed his body to a woodchipper, the bits of Kobe goo would sort of recohere, like the Terminator 2 cyborg, and then, while Chauncey was eating Snackwells or whatever and watching TV, the Kobe goo would find him and strangle him to death. Kobe is the most competitive person on earth.
DS: So basically taking the old platitude of "killer instinct" and taking it to its logical, literal conclusion?
KTG: That's better, yes, I guess that's what's going on here. I actually did a Kobe Bryant story for Sports Illustrated in 2004. I had to write around him, as he wouldn't talk to me. I really admired him during that period, when he was on trial in Eagle and facing a potential long jail term, and jetting back and forth from the courtroom to basketball arenas, and still putting up 40 a night. That kind of focus is astonishing.
Wow, that Nowitzki thing is pretty great.
DS: It's genius in its way.
KTG: Is there a lot of NBA fan fiction? I imagine most of it is by kids.
DS: It is, except the slash fiction. If you've ever wanted to read about Ron Artest and Ben Wallace making up over a night of passionate lovemaking, I'm sure that's out there.
Why LeBron as the antagonist? My mind would immediately go to Shaq as someone Kobe's had personal issues with. Or is Kobe's killer instinct not personal, but just about being the best at what he does?
KTG: Shaq would make it too real. And Nike has been doing this whole Kobe v. LeBron puppet campaign. Which I guess is fan fiction of a sort.
DS: It seems like LeBron never had a chance in the factory.
KTG: Well, i'm a Kobe Bryant fan. I'm a Laker fan.
I'm looking at Basketbawful, there is stuff on slash fiction. I guess it is mostly porn. So that was one direction this story could have gone. I didn't even think of it.
DS: Well, had you gone that route, would it have still been LeBron?
KTG: I think there is only one direction THAT kind of story can go. And that is...NOWITZKI!
DS: It all comes back to Dirk.
KTG: It really does. Why is that?
DS: That's a good question. Has there ever been a more fascinating player that doesn't actually do or say anything that interesting?
KTG: I suppose if Sabonis were still in the league...
DS: Yeah, so why are all of Kobe's kills retired centers?
KTG: I don't know. I was going to actually try to figure out who Kobe has posterized and use those names, but then I got tired. And the whole thing needed to be in a more fantastic realm, divorced from any kind or reality. And I wrote it in a half-hour.
DS: Not that fiction has to "mean" anything, but could this be some kind of parable or fable? Or is it honest-to-god "Wouldn't it be cool if..."
KTG: This was just supposed to be funny, nothing more. Or, is it actually commentary on the industrialization and commercialization of our sporting culture? No. I'm always trying to write these stories for literary journals, the Paris Review, the Southern Review, the Missouri Review, etc. and they are almost never funny. I wanted to write something funny.
DS: The serious lit journal crowd could have a field day analyzing the significance of a gladiatorial deathmatch in a Nike sweatshop, you realize?
KTG: I've been writing stories in lit mags for a couple years now and you are the first person who has ever asked me anything about them. I mean, I had a story in frickin' Best American Short Stories, and nobody has ever even mentioned it to me.
DS: Well, this is your first story where Kobe murders LeBron.
KTG: I know! What took me so long?
DS: Yet even through your purple-and-gold colored glasses, Kobe isn't perfect here. He says things he thinks are profound but make little sense.
KTG: I see him as deeply flawed, and if he played for any other team I would absolutely hate him. I mean, he's a villain, right? But he's a great villain and he's our villain.
DS: Could Earl Boykins and Nate Robinson take Kobe 2-on-1? Or would they have to call in Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues as backup?
KTG: Of those four, I think Muggsy was the most competitive. That would be a good one, sort of like when the Victorian English would have, like, 21 rats go up against a pit bull.
DS: Ball sports are our version of blood sports. Two thousand years ago in Rome, would Kobe have been a successful gladiator?
KTG: Are you kidding? if it had been Kobe in that iron mask, it would be Maximus Interruptus.
Karl Taro Greenfeld is the author of four books, including last year's memoir Boy Alone. His writing has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Best American Sports Writing, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best American Travel Writing and Best American Short Stories.