Kuroko’s Basketball has been pretty exciting lately. We finally get to watch the Generation of Miracles go toe-to-toe with each other and with Seirin, and it is awesome. Egos inflate and deflate. Kise and Kagami greet each other with slam dunks before their much-anticipated rematch. Fans cheer, squeal, and gasp both on the bleachers and behind their screens while ships continue to sail. Sometimes, I forget why I’m so excited. And then I remember what sets this show apart: the basketball which Kuroko plays.
In season one, we learn that Kuroko isn’t happy with how the Teiko Middle School team turned out. Everyone else sees the Generation of Miracles, an unbeatable team of allstars. But Kuroko sees athletes who prize their individual abilities above teamwork, winning above friendship, or personal challenge above what’s best for the team. They are immensely talented, but they’ve lost their perspective. Kuroko seeks a team that loves basketball and works together, that knows winning isn’t everything—but will try their darndest to win, because they love the game. This is the kind of team he can support.
Maybe Kuroko can keep his perspective because of his own skill set. Unlike the rest of the Generation of Miracles and Kagami, Kuroko can’t score on his own. He doesn’t even learn to shoot until partway through his first year of high school. Instead, he specializes in passing. When his teammates pass a ball, he briefly touches it, sending the pass in a different direction than their opponents expect. Through middle school and the first part of the anime, he rarely, if ever, holds or dribbles the ball for more than a second—and that is part of the “Misdirection” foundational to his play. He already has almost no presence on the court. He appears too weak and small compared even to average players, so opponents naturally focus on the more “significant” members of the team. Add to that his calculated contact with the ball and the tricks with his eyes, and he can easily direct attention away from himself, becoming essentially invisible. By disappearing, he enhances both the individual skills and group coordination of his team. He plays as a shadow, but that only works if he can team with others.
Kuroko and Kagami join Seirin’s basketball club at the same time. Kagami is a tall, imposing athlete who has just come back to Japan after living and playing in America for several years. At first, he doesn’t understand why the pathetically-weak-looking Kuroko plays basketball. Kuroko, on the other hand, immediately recognizes Kagami’s strength and chooses to become a shadow to his light. In other words, while Kuroko does work with the entire team, he focuses on providing Kagami opportunities to shine even brighter than he could on his own.
Meanwhile, when people eventually notice Kuroko, they ask each other, “Wait a second… was number 11 on the court the entire time?”
In order to made Kagami shine and contribute to the team’s victories, Kuroko must forgo his own glory. Opponents forget he’s on the court, but they’re not the only ones. Journalists forget to interview him when they talk to the team. Fans of the Generation of Miracles forget about him… if they ever knew about him in the first place. Only people who have shared the court with him acknowledge his strength, and he’s okay with that.
Now, Kuroko’s gameplay has evolved a bit. He finally learned to shoot, and it’s a pretty incredible, unique shot, one that even Murasakibara couldn’t block. His Vanishing Drive starts to draw attention, too… and I haven’t forgotten Misdirection Overflow, in which he purposefully draws all attention to himself, away from his teammates. Kuroko isn’t just a shadow anymore. He’s spunky and competitive and not afraid to show it… If it’s also in the best interests of the team. In fact, in some matches—like the current one against Kise—it would be pointless to start with his normal disappearing act. Kise and the rest of Kaijo would see right through it. Thankfully, Kuroko’s new skills allow him to play on equal ground with the rest of the team, even when he’s not running his Misdirection. He’s still well aware of his limitations—he’s not dunking anytime soon!—and even when he gets competitive as an individual, it’s more a matter of personal challenge than attention seeking.
Kuroko’s humble approach to basketball has me thinking about my approach to writing and school. I like my abilities to be recognized. If I’m competent in something, I want people to know it. I don’t want to appear smarter than I am (I hate wearing masks, and I never want to experience a cracking mask again), but I’m way too eager to let my professors and classmates know that I do, in fact, know something. I don’t have to outright boast. It just takes an answer here, a knowing smile there… ugh, as I type this, the ugliness of my pride kicks me in the gut, and I have to pause and pray. I know that any understanding I have is only by God’s grace. And the focus to use that understanding in an even remotely efficient manner? Yeah, that’s definitely only by God’s grace. I’ve failed enough to know my weakness, but I still have the audacity to say, “Look at me! I know stuff!” If I were using my abilities in order to glorify God, that would be one thing—like Kuroko confidently redirecting attention to help his teammates. Confidence in God’s gifts is great. But when I show off for my own sake, in order to be acknowledged or admired… nope. That’s pride. It’s not right toward God, and it’s certainly not respectful toward my classmates, who are also blessed with some incredible talents… and some of them don’t realize it. Instead of letting my light distract me and others from the One who deserves the glory (in which case, I am not serving as a good light at all), I should take a page from Kuroko’s book and live in a way that lets others shine.
My goal is twofold: serving others and glorifying God. In Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, he encouraged them to humbly look out for one another:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4, ESV)
I’ve studied these verses many times (yeah, I’m a slow learner with things like this) and written about them various places. But here’s a specific application I’d like us to consider: it’s time to pay attention to the other lights on our team and see how we can build them up, instead of just looking for an opportunity let our own gifts shine. I have a fair amount of confidence in certain areas of school, and I know from experience that confidence is a huge factor in getting anything done. So how can I encourage my classmates? How can I help build their confidence? Not by announcing my knowledge, that’s for sure. Instead, maybe I can seek their help. Maybe I can lend them—especially my closer friends—my own confidence that they will shine, and I can give specific reasons I know they’ll succeed.
Kuroko has spurred a lot of thinking in this area, and I suspect these reflections will continue between my fangirling. He does a great job serving others on the court and pointing out their significance. But he, of course, is still an imperfect example. Ultimately, I seek to imitate Jesus Christ and direct others to God’s glory. Paul continues his letter by bringing it back to Christ:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5-11, emphases mine)
This week, I pray that I can joyfully glorify God without thinking of my own importance. I want to pay attention to the people around me and see how they shine—and to build them up best I can. This will take practice and a lot of help from the Holy Spirit. But I have faith that he will continue to mold me in my interactions with others—and I suspect he’ll keep using Kuroko to remind me about humble gameplay. I spend too much time thinking about that dear anime athlete not to remember.