Recently, I went to a Lakers game with family and friends, and I came away with a philosophical reflection. I noticed that every time Lakers star Kobe Bryant touched the ball, scored a basket, or even appeared on the big screen, the crowd at Staples Center visibly changed. Lakers fans became loud, energetic, and collectively erupted into a roar. There was an electrical excitement in the arena that buzzed at every connection to Kobe Bryant. This “Kobe focus” could be explained by the fact that the Lakers have little to cheer about these days, or that this is Bryant’s last season, but I think there is more to it than just that.
Major sports figures, like celebrities in other fields, seemingly carry a unique ability to stir large crowds of people. I wonder what triggers such energy and why people are attracted to such individuals. Is it their skill, personality, or sheer celebrity?
Kobe Bryant’s reputation was tarnished by a certain past event. Though now, at the end of his career, he seems to be more popular than ever. It would seem that with Bryant, his fame, attraction, and electric persona is connected to his amazing skill on the basketball court and his ability to lead the Lakers to multiple championships.
Yet in today’s world of reality shows and social media, there seems to be people who are well-known for no other reason than because they are popular. That is, they don’t necessarily have a skill or accomplishment that made them famous; they’re famous simply for having access to the media or a large social following. This seemingly artificial form of celebrity strikes me as odd and unjustified.
I also wonder what fame, earned or unearned, does to a person in terms of character and virtue in life. Is it possible to keep your feet on the ground when everyone knows your name and even cheers for you? How do the really big celebrities in life keep from becoming self-absorbed and narcissistically entitled? Is fame good for the state of a person’s soul?
Humans—God’s created beings—weren’t meant to be worshipped, and when they are, it seems to disrupt their hearts and egos. Some people can handle their fame well and even do good things with it, but they still face challenges. They must sacrifice privacy and anonymity. In fame, everyone not only knows your name, but your sins and slip-ups. Still, being well-known offers rare opportunities to raise awareness for charities and humanitarian causes, and to serve as a Christ-like example to large audiences.
Kobe Bryant said it this way:
If you want to be great at something, there’s a choice that you have to make. . . . What I mean by that is, there are inherent sacrifices that come along with that.
As Kobe Bryant retires, he’ll do so with five championship rings and over 33,500 points scored. These are major accomplishments that no doubt caused him to make weighty sacrifices in his personal life. Would such fame and achievements be worth it in the end?
I’ve asked myself whether I would want to be famous. My reflective answer is only if it could result from me being just, wise, and good. But even then, would the benefits of fame outweigh its detriments?
Reflections: Your Turn
What about you? What would you want to be famous for and would the costs of fame be worth it? Is fame a reasonable goal in the Christian worldview? Visit Reflections on Wordpress to comment with your response.
For more reflections on fame and its ramifications, see my three-part article “Money, Fame, and Influence: HBO’s Documentary on Former Beatle George Harrison” (part 1, part 2, part 3).