The days you get your ass kicked, it’s usually not because of the situation, the person or organization you are facing – it’s because of your lack of preparation and attention. If you’re humiliated in a job interview, it’s because you didn’t know enough about the company’s philosophy. If you’re on a date and suddenly become an asshole, it’s because you’re not paying enough attention to the person sitting opposite you. In either case, you have become trapped in your own narcissism.
The greatest weapon is never more money or manpower, it’s the ability to read the mind of the man or woman you are facing. If you can read minds, you can literally accomplish anything. This is what the government calls “intelligence”. They never send agents out without having “Intel” brief them on their mission – like in a 007 movie.
In sports, when a favored opponent loses to a weaker one, they call it an “upset”. And if you’re into sports, the bigger the upset, the more thrilling the experience (unless you were cheering for the team that lost). Because, there is nothing like a good ass kicking that mirrors real life more accurately. Welcome Back to “The 33 Strategies of Sports”, a concoction of Robert Greene’s “33 Strategies of War” and sports history.
THE MIRRORED ENEMY
On the night of February 9th, 2012, The Los Angeles Lakers, lead by the greatest player of his generation, Kobe Bryant, had just defeated their bitter rival, the Boston Celtics 88-87. The Lakers were weary from a disappointing 6 game road trip (they lost 3 of them already). But there was never a greater remedy than facing their next opponents, The New York Knicks – in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, where they always cheered for Bryant, even though he played for the other team.
Bryant made a career of destroying the Knicks in MSG, the Mecca of basketball – and humiliating his hero, Coach Mike D’Antoni (who played in the Italian league where Bryant grew up. Kobe loved nothing more than to kill his heroes). There was no reason to think the most ferocious competitor in basketball wouldn’t deliver another blow (Kobe had soundly defeated the Knicks 99-82 in December) – Except for one small factor, the emergence of a point guard who was buried in the Knicks bench only a week before (and a week prior to that, played in the D League). His name was Jeremy Lin. This young guard had led the Knicks to four consecutive victories, averaging 28 pts and 8 assists. Bryant was so unfamiliar with Lin, he seemed to be asking the reporters questions after the Boston game: “I know who he is, but I don’t really know what’s going on too much with him. I don’t even know what he’s done. Like, I have no idea what you guys are talking about. I’ll take a look at it tonight though.”
The reporters, of course, didn’t stop there. They did not believe that Bryant had not scouted Lin, an opponent he would face 18 hours later. Kobe grew visibly irritated when a reporter reminded him that Lin had a good game against him the year before (as a Golden States Warrior), recording 4 steals. The fact that Lin was playing at a high level and was Asian had already created a small media storm. China had begun broadcasting Knicks games. Asians who never watched basketball in their lives were tuning in regularly. Despite only having four starts, Jeremy Lin’s rise had been labeled “Linsanity”. Fed up, Kobe went on a minor rant: “What the fuck is going on? Who is this kid? I’ve heard about him and stuff like that, but what’s he been doing? Is he getting like triple doubles or some shit? He’s averaging 28 and eight? No shit. If he’s playing well, I’ll just have to deal with him.” When one reporter suggested that Bryant would guard Lin, Kobe shrugged this off and muttered: “Jesus Christ, let’s not get ahead of ourselves”.
The next evening, Bryant and the Lakers entered a Madison Square Garden they had not seen in long time. The place was sold out. Celebrities (along with diehard fans, Spike Lee and Woody Allen) were court side – like Ben Stiller, Dwayne Johnson, and guys from The New York Giants, who had just won the Superbowl. The MSG crowd was roaring “Go New York Go!” like they did in their glorious past – they were no longer cheering for Bryant. But the Kobe way saw it, “they would soon enough”. He fed on such energy. His killer instincts made him salivate. He could not wait to quiet this monster down and force the Mecca of basketball on its knees and cheer for him once more. After all, he usually did. Additionally, the Knicks were also missing their two best players, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. This Lin guy alone could not defeat Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum, could he?
The game began slowly for the Lakers, as the team took a late flight from Boston the night before. Bryant witnessed first hand what this Jeremy Lin could do, attacking the Lakers by shooting 4-5 buckets, leading the Knicks to a 22-15 first quarter lead. The sinewy Asian guard did not look that threatening. He had a boyish body. He looked awkward, compared to his athletic teammates. His hair was messy, like he just woke up from a nap. His face even appeared lazy. But somehow, Jeremy Lin always got to the basket. Or made a pass that got his teammate to the basket. It was a big game, and the 6-3, 200 lb. guard was delivering. By halftime, Madison Square Garden was like a riot waiting to happen.
But the score was only 49-41. Five time champion, Kobe Bryant had come back from far worse. He had missed the majority of his shots, but he was just getting warmed up. The second half would inevitably belong to him – it always had. And Bryant was right. The Mighty Lakers began to wear down the smaller Knicks. With 9:25 left in the game, the Lakers had trimmed the lead to 3 and Kobe Bryant smelled blood. But Kobe also noticed something odd about the lazy-eyed faced guard, who’s name everyone in MSG was chanting, along side “M-V-P!”. Jeremy Lin did not back down. He just kept attacking. He had scored the most points in the game.
With the game on the line, Jeremy Lin fed shooting guard Iman Shumpert for a jumper and on the following possession, Shumpert blew past Bryant for a dunk that sent the crowd into a frenzy. With the lead at eight, Jeremy Lin delivered the final blow, nailing a three point shot to knock out the mighty Lakers.
Final score: Knicks, 92, Lakers, 85. The most telling stats were that of Kobe Bryant vs. Jeremy Lin’s. Kobe had 34 points, Jeremy Lin had 38. Kobe had not only been defeated but out dueled, rolling the red carpet to the guy he had brushed off like a fly only the night before. Madison Square Garden went off like a megaton bomb as the take down of Kobe Bryant went global, paving the way for a new star in the NBA. Now, very aware of who Jeremy Lin was, a humbled Bryant said: “I think it’s a great story… a testament to perseverance and hard work. Good example for kids everywhere.”
Kobe Bryant, perhaps the most meticulous and prepared player in the game, likely scouted Jeremy Lin and perhaps was even aware of the young guard’s situation. Lin was a great high school player who had to make DVDs of his games and beg Division I Programs for a college scholarship – he would not get one. He was given a scholarship at Harvard instead, where the NBA rarely looks.
Lin went undrafted to the Golden State Warriors, only to be dropped, then signed by the Houston Rockets, where he was also dropped. Out of desperation, and job security, Mike D’Antoni signed Lin but would not play him (instead sending him to the D-League). When the Knicks had to decide whether or not to sign Lin to a guaranteed contract, they had no choice but to give him minutes… and the rest is history. The Knicks was his last stand.
In other words, Kobe Bryant’s attempt to intimidate his opponent backfired, as the most dangerous kind of opponent you can face is the one with nothing to lose. As Robert Greene warns: “if you let narcissism act as a screen between you and other people, you will misread them and your strategies may misfire. Every individual is like an alien culture. You must get inside his or her way of thinking. Only by knowing your enemies, can you ever hope to vanquish them”.
KEYS TO ENGAGEMENT
As Pau Gasol said after the game,”I think that you can stop a player from not getting 38 points on you any night. I don’t care how good he is, but I guess we didn’t step up to the challenge as a team. We overlooked him.” The NBA and every professional sports organization prides itself an acquiring intelligence on other teams and players. The higher the level, the higher the gathering of intelligence. So much analysis goes into a player’s habits, likes, dislikes, strength, weaknesses. But yet Jeremy Lin was overlooked by the entire food chain of basketball.
As Jeremy Lin himself stated two years ago, “I just think in order for someone to understand my game, they have to watch me more than once, because I’m not going to do anything that’s extra flashy or freakishly athletic.” In other words, part of Lin’s strength is his ability to be “unscoutable”. He does not look all that impressive, perhaps uncoordinated and clumsy, and as a result, the Lakers did not take Jeremy Lin seriously. Now, they do.
In hindsight, Kobe Bryant would study Jeremy Lin’s game, seeking out his weaknesses, and exploit them – and avoid being exploited himself. Since this is precisely what Jeremy Lin did, engaging, daring Kobe into a shooting contest. He knew if he could attack Kobe’s pride, he would grow quickly impatient with his big men and try to defeat the Knicks on his own. Kobe Bryant, the greatest player of his generation, was sucked into a vortex, when getting Andrew Bynum more involved (Bynum only scored 3 points) would have given the Lakers a tremendously greater chance of victory.
Like Kobe Bryant, you are likely walking into a Jeremy Lin-type buzz saw yourself right now. There is likely a situation or a person you are dealing with you don’t know enough about. And the moment you begin to get your ass kicked, you will be shocked and awed, and complain about your bad luck – but the power to avoid this was at your fingertips all along. Avoid seeing what you want to see and stare at the facts, the history, how someone reacts under pressure, and pay close attention to the people that give a shit about you tell you – or suffer the consequences.
The Knicks would ride a seven game winning streak, before finally experiencing defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Hornets, who collapsed on Lin with clever team defense and crowding the guard whenever he tried to penetrate. The Miami Heat frustrated Lin even more, constantly harassing him into making costly mistakes and forcing the worse game of his young career. Teams are now scouting Lin, looking for any weakness in his game (or as ESPN would put it, his armor). The guard is being very seriously scouted by every team in the NBA, as we speak.
Just as you analyze your opponent, realize that the same is likely being done to you. Constantly change your game to avoid being predictable – or feign Jeremy Lin-like “unscoutability”. And remember that your opponents are the same way. They’re not machines, but constantly mutating, adapting to what you are doing, learning from your successes and their mistakes. As Robert Greene warns, “your beaten opponent today may be wiser tomorrow”.