There was nobody Shane Battier respected more than his basketball adversary. ‘So much of my career was tied to me being his foil and him being my foil,’ he says.
Kobe Bryant wrote what he knew. In the book he published before his death, he wrote about Michael Jordan and LeBron James, Jerry West and Magic Johnson, the players who helped define his two decades in the NBA and, of course, himself.
He also wrote about Shane Battier.
“I never spoke to Kobe outside the arena—ever,” Battier said this week. “I didn’t have a relationship with him. But I knew him intimately.”
Battier was the man known around the NBA as the greatest of the “Kobe Stoppers,” the select group of players who were paid to defend one of the most prolific scorers the game has ever seen. He was smart enough not to call himself a Kobe Stopper, this peculiar species that Bryant delighted in humiliating, because he understood that declaring you could stop Kobe happened to be the worst strategy for actually doing so.Nobody could stop Kobe. The best you could do was slow him down. And so it became Battier’s goal to be a human yellow light.
There are few players in NBA history whose value was so inextricably linked to someone else’s. Battier thought of himself as Captain Ahab. Bryant was his Moby Dick.
“So much of my career was tied to me being his foil and him being my foil,” he said.
Born only weeks apart, they were technically contemporaries, but it never felt that way to Battier. There was nobody he respected more than Bryant. There was also nobody who vexed him as much as Bryant.
By the time he retired in 2014, Battier had an encyclopedic understanding of almost everyone he defended—who they were, who they weren’t and how he could use that information to his advantage. But there was one he could never crack. “He was the only guy,” Battier said. “What Kobe represents is the absolute pinnacle of challenge in my profession.”
Battier, who is now an executive with the Miami Heat, felt the death of his basketball adversary in ways that he might not have expected. He’s nostalgic about their 44 games against each other—Bryant’s teams went 24-20—and wistful about beers they never shared together. He’s even thought about what he would’ve told Bryant if he ever got the chance.
“He made me feel the most alive I ever did on the basketball court,” Battier said. “I knew I had to be at my absolute best. If I wasn’t, I was in serious trouble. Even when I was, I was in serious trouble.”
Bryant and Battier were maniacal competitors, but Battier knew he couldn’t compete with Bryant physically, which meant he would have to compete with the author of a book called “The Mamba Mentality” on a psychological level.
The ingenious part of his plan was how he went about pulling it off: Battier embraced Bryant’s perception of him. He wouldn’t act better than he was. He would pretend to be worse. Battier insisted he was slow and unathletic and extraordinarily lucky that a basketball legend happened to keep picking the nights they were on the court together to miss an unusual percentage of his shots. He made Eeyore sound confident.
It was a wonderful idea in theory. The problem was that NBA games are played in reality.
“I saw through that tactic, understood his premeditated modesty and attacked him because of it,” Bryant wrote.
“And I knew that he knew,” Battier said.
“I prided myself on playing any so-called Kobe Stopper,” Bryant wrote.
“I always prided myself as a guy who could get in the mind of another player,” Battier said.
“Safe to say,” Bryant wrote, “I had a lot of fun playing against him.”
“Nothing in my life has even come close to replicating that,” Battier said.
The professional rivalry between this one guy who believed he was the greatest and this other guy who purported to be terrible would become plain to see when it was highlighted on national television broadcasts and in a New York Times Magazinecover story—which added yet another layer of complexity to the curious game of cat and mouse they were playing while everyone around them was busy with a basketball game.
The first time that Battier had the misfortune of guarding Bryant was in his rookie season of 2002. He was petrified. On the bus ride to the Lakers’ arena, however, Battier tried to inject himself with confidence. “How good can this guy really be?” he thought.
It turned out to be a rhetorical question.
This was the night he would make his maiden voyage to a place he called Kobe Island. He soon found himself marooned. The only person who would stop Kobe that night was Kobe himself. Bryant scored 56 points in three quarters and was too good to keep playing.
“Everyone remembers his 81-point game,” Battier said. “There’s no question he would’ve scored 80 points if he’d played the fourth quarter.”
The next formative Bryant experience in Battier’s life would come seven years later. By then he was on a Rockets team riding a magical 21-game winning streak with the Lakers coming to Houston one night in 2008.
It was on Bryant to stop them. It was on Battier to stop Bryant.
Battier had never known so much about this player he didn’t really know. He immersed himself in data. He internalized scouting reports that were finally worth reading. He even hydrated properly. “Instead of having a second glass of wine, I usually stopped at one,” Battier said. He would never feel good about guarding Bryant. But at least he could feel less bad.
All that information suggested the worst shot for Bryant was a long 2-pointer off the dribble while moving left, and Battier attempted to bait him into settling for exactly that shot. He was willing to try anything to make this happen. He even turned his own hand into a blindfold. Instead of trying to block Bryant’s shots, Battier tried to block his vision.
But that wasn’t the only reason he made a habit of sticking his hand over another man’s eyes.
“This is one of the things I’ll lament that I’ll never be able to tell him over a beer,” Battier said. “When I put my hand in people’s faces, I didn’t care if they made it or not. I really, really didn’t. For a guy like Kobe, I knew he would take that as a personal affront—that that was the only way I could guard him. In truth, it probably was. I was completely fine with him trying to prove that it didn’t work. That was my best-case scenario.”
Bryant played 47 minutes and 4 seconds that night. Battier was on the court for all but 40 seconds of them. Bryant went 11-for-33 and the Rockets won again. Battier considers it the single greatest defensive game of his career.
He would never have the opportunity to discuss it with Bryant.
“The physical battles were what they were, but there are very few people who could understand the psychological battles,” Battier said. “I don’t think I could have that conversation with anybody else in the world.”
America led a 30-year hiatus from history. It was nice while it lasted, but it’s over.
That crashing sound you heard in world markets last week wasn’t just a correction. It was the sound of the end of an age.
During the long era of relatively stable international relations that succeeded the Cold War, markets enjoyed an environment uniquely conducive to economic growth.
.. The results were extraordinary. Between 1990 and 2017, world-wide gross domestic product rose from $23.4 trillion to $80.1 trillion, the value of world trade grew even faster, more than a billion people escaped poverty, and infant-mortality rates decreased by more than 50%. The number of people with telephone service grew roughly 10-fold.
This hiatus from history was, by most measures of human flourishing, a glorious era. Now it has come to an end, or at least a pause, and the world is beginning to see what that means.
.. the basic elements of economic globalization appeared firmly in place.
Russia, the most obvious challenger to the geopolitical order, was an insignificant and diminishing player economically.
And China, notwithstanding its rapid economic growth and its anxiety about American military power, was unlikely to challenge the economic basis of its own success. Geopolitics might have been back, but that wasn’t an issue for markets.
That complacency was misplaced. The return of geopolitics means the basic framework for economic policy has changed. In periods of great-power rivalry, national leaders must often put geopolitical goals ahead of economic ones. Bismarck’s Germany could have saved money buying armaments from Britain, but building a domestic arms industry was worth the cost. If the U.S. is in a serious strategic competition with China, an American president might well be willing to sacrifice some economic growth to banish China from important supply chains.
,, by invoking “national security,” the Trump administration has found a legal basis, with roots in the Cold War and even earlier, to assert sweeping powers over the nation’s commerce. It has upended a generation of U.S. trade policy in a dramatically short period of time.
.. The new era of geopolitics is unlikely to be an era of small government.
.. The Trump administration is
reversing some of the regulatory excesses of the Obama era, and
the president’s judicial appointees are prepared to rein in the administrative state.
.. A recalibration of the U.S.-China relationship was likely inevitable as the world’s oldest civilization became an economic superpower.
Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state clashed with Mr. Obama over the need for a tougher approach to China, would not be a popular figure in Beijing if she had won the 2016 election.