Watching the Lakers beat the Timberwolves in their first game since Kobe’s knee injury sidelined him, I couldn’t help but think of the Steven Spielberg film, “Hook,” detailing the adventures of an adult Peter Pan’s return to Neverland to find his youth, his children, and to lead his lost boys against Captain Hook.
This season’s Lakers are a ragtag group of youths, outcasts of the NBA, waiting on the return of the mythical Kobe Bryant, just as the lost boys waited on Peter Pan, absent from Neverland at the start of the film.
Basketball teams take on the personality of their leader, and in Kobe’s six games with the Lakers this season, his presence was enormous. He plays a different style than the team had employed, and they were quick to try to adjust to him. Before Kobe’s first game back from injury, the Lakers introduced the other four starters, and then gave Bryant his own theme music, and announced him separately. Kobe is one of the Lakers, but he remains apart from this team. Older, wiser, more accomplished. He is a veteran and a champion, and they are young journeymen. They look up to him and follow him, even though they can never be him. With him sidelined, they must forge ahead together, and find a way to play without him.
Peter Pan leads a ragtag group of “lost boys” that play, fight, and live together. They follow Pan, but he is blessed with gifts of flight and leadership that they will never possess. He is one of them, yet always separate. They take on Pan’s quest to defeat Captain Hook, and follow him to the end, but it is Peter’s fight – not theirs. Pan leaves Neverland and forgets to fly, and the lost boys must search for a new leader and identity.
In Pan’s absence, the lost boys turn to a flamboyant youth named Rufio to lead them. Rufio cannot compete with the mythical Pan, but he is talented, brash, and occasionally dazzling. He allows them to have fun, and gives them a figure to rally behind. The lost boys always know that if Pan returns to form, Rufio must step aside.
After Kobe broke his knee, he exited the lineup, leaving his team with a seismic void to fill: Who will lead these lost boys of the NBA? What is their identity?
Enter Nick Young, a.k.a. “Swaggy P.” He’s flamboyant, confident, and occasionally mesmerizing, though not on the same plane as the great Kobe Bryant.With his 25 points against Minnesota, and array of “swaggy” moves, he stamped his personality all over the Kobe-less Lakers. As Coach Mike D’Antoni said, “he starts swaggin’ out there and…it gets everyone’s energy up.” Young’ exuberance is contagious to this team. In Kobe’s absence, they adopt Young’s personality.
Young’s Lakers run and gun, and everyone is in on the fun. Even Kobe’s old running mate Pau Gasol got swept up in the “swag” fest, nailing a three pointer and doing the “Swaggy P” dance.
Like Rufio’s lost boys, Young’s Lakers are carefree, reveling in their roles with the Lakers. The team’s analysts at Time Warner Cable, a year ago so serious in the hunt for a championship that they criticized Dwight Howard for smiling, now bask in all that is “Swaggy P.”
With Kobe out, and no point guards, this Lakers’ season is anarchy. And just like in Neverland, anarchy creates the opportunity for hijinks and fun. The lost boys in L.A. are entertaining themselves and the city, but as much fun as the boys have shooting threes and throwing lobs deep down everyone knows “Swaggy P” and company cannot reach the promised land. They are just filling time before their leader returns, bringing with him a real, daunting quest.
In “Hook,” Peter Pan returns to Neverland fat, grumpy, and unable to fly. He tries to defeat Captain Hook and save his children on his own through reason and bargaining, and fails. The boys put him through a boot camp, teach him to remember the joy of youth, and Peter slowly regains his powers – he has to in order to save his children, captives of Captain Hook.
Kobe will surely return from his knee injury, shaky and not yet ready to fly. He may try to to win his way, serious and plodding, but that will not work with this collection of lost boys. However, if he can accept the culture of this year’s fun Lakers, maybe he can add a legitimacy to the chaos that allows them to battle the fearsome pirates.
The lost boys know that Pan is the only one of them capable of defeating Hook. However, Peter needs them to get him there. The lost boys have to fight the pirates to free Pan to battle Hook mano-a-mano. They do it their own fun and offbeat way, upsetting the pirates with unpredictability.
Kobe must find a way to blend himself in with this team’s strength: Their surprising vitality. Just like Pan, he will have to lead his team from within, not without. Kobe needs his lost boys’ unconventional, frenzied talents to have a shot at accomplishing his goal. The way the Lakers are winning right now may not make any sense – and therein lies its power.
The lost boys in “Hook,” even Rufio, secretly hoped that Pan would return and lead them to bigger and better things, accomplishments that they could not sniff without him. To do so, he had to join them in their ruckus and elevate them, not confine them.
The Lakers certainly hope Kobe can regain flight and lead these lost boys to achievements beyond their wildest imagination. If not, what are they fighting for?