For the past 72 episodes of Kuroko’s Basketball, we’ve watched the title character play with passion and teamwork. This contrasts with Kuroko’s middle school team’s philosophy, which was self-centered and drained away their enjoyment of the game. Kuroko and his high school team have beaten four of his five former teammates, the supposedly invincible Generation of Miracles. One by one, he taught them what he’d learned about what basketball can and should be.
Now, in the final game of the Winter Cup, he faces his former captain, Akashi Seijuro. Akashi is a natural leader. He’s not the sole source of the Generation of Miracles’ problems, but he had the power to change the way his fellow prodigies thought about basketball and themselves. If he’d reached out to Aomine, told him he’d be missed in practice; if he’d shown respect for weaker opponents; if he’d been able to see his teammates as friends instead of pawns… maybe things would have turned out differently. But he was barely into his teens himself, and his life philosophy was already twisted. So he’s not just the Final Boss our shounen heroes must defeat. He’s the center of twisted reasoning, the most articulate representative of everything Kuroko fights to prove wrong.
On the surface, Kuroko’s Basketball is about Kuroko’s playing style and team-oriented game plan. But as I compare his ways with Akashi’s, the source of their differences becomes clear: their basketball styles stem, in part, from basic assumptions about humanity. Observe the differences in their approaches:
- Akashi’s father expects him to excel in both school and “arms” (reinterpreted in this modern age to include sports, not just weaponry and marital arts). Akashi himself has taken ownership of this philosophy. He approaches basketball expecting to conquer. He is the best and will establish his dominance.
- There are three main groups of people in his perspective: tools, the person who wields those tools (him), and enemies. That ultimately shrinks to two groups: he who rules, and those who are below him.
- He believes that the Generation of Miracles is driven by instinct to compete for dominance, and that is why they chose different high schools. This is not friendly competition: it’s a question of who’s better, who’s fittest, who will survive and make it to the top.
- His approach to basketball is self-serving, and he encourages others to approach basketball in the same, self-oriented way (so long as they recognize his power over them, of course).
- He wasn’t thrilled when Kuroko questioned his cold response to Aomine’s refusal to come to practice. Kuroko was saddened to see Aomine’s passion disappear, and he wanted to help. Akashi just compared Aomine to a cracked but still very usable dish.
- On the other hand, Akashi was pleased when Mayuzumi (aka Kuroko 2.0) said, “I love myself. It would be boring to become a player specializing in passing the ball. I don’t want to play in a game that badly. If I don’t feel good, there’s no meaning to playing basketball.” (S3, ep 18)
- Since the Generation of Miracles didn’t need to rely on each other to win, Akashi minimized team play, saying it would just get in each team member’s way.
- In the most recent episode, Akashi gave up on his teammates and entered the Zone, indicating that he’ll win the game by himself, since no one else is competent enough.
- Others’ feelings—and even their emotional and psychological health—don’t matter. I already mentioned Aomine. More recently, when Mayuzumi lost his potency as a phantom player, Akashi reduced him to a mere body on the court—mildly useful but shamed. And that’s just how he treats his teammates! He makes his opponents fall before him (even to their knees). If the opposing team is very week, he’ll have his team make a game of making the scoreboard read 111 vs. 11, or have his teammates compete against each other for most baskets—thus disrespecting and humiliating the other team.
- Even on Akashi’s current team, Rakuzan, where all the other regulars are older than him, he doesn’t give them much respect. His own teammates fear his displeasure.
- Basically, Akashi seeks victory and glory for himself.
- Kuroko and the other Seirin players build each other up. They work toward both individual and team goals. Yes, they want to win the championship. They also want to help Kuroko prove to Akashi that there’s a better way to play. And, in addition to all that, Kagami is determined to beat every member of the Generation of Miracles.
- They play with passion and love for the game, along with respect for others who have that passion.
- Everyone has a role, and everyone is respected. Benchwarmers cheer the team on, and inspire them by expressing confidence and hope. Players who are usually on the bench are, in turn, encouraged and appreciated on the court. Their shortcomings are not held against them.
- Kuroko and his friends care about each other’s successes and disappointments. They have sympathy and compassion, even for those on other teams.
- Opponents aren’t necessarily enemies. Kuroko is pretty dang competitive, but he appreciates the opportunity games provide to challenge and teach each other. And he has fun.
- Basketball is very important to Kuroko. So is the championship. But he recognizes that if he sacrifices friendship and basic decency in order to win, basketball loses much of what makes it so good.
Kuroko doesn’t outright say that people’s value, dignity, and life quality do not hinge on their accomplishments. But he treats people with respect, as holistic beings whose feelings matter. He knows athletes are people, not robots, and should be treated well.
We recognize that Kuroko’s way is better than Akashi’s. We know that human beings hould be appreciated and respected for more than their performance or usefulness. Why? I think it’s partially what we’re taught, and partially instinctive. Most, if not all, cultures throughout history have recognized humans as special. Murder, for example, is seen as heinous cross-culturally, not just because it disrupts peace and comfort, but because the victim is worth something, means something more than other life forms.
What is it? Why do people require special treamment? Why is Akashi’s way wrong, and Kuroko’s way better? Because one sets better in our gut? No, that is only a clue, a sensor—the conscience God gave us, something we often harden and warp according to our own circumstances.
Human beings are special because we were created by God, in his image. Kuroko might not consciously realize this, but this is what makes people worth treating well.
What do we mean when we say that “God made man in his own image”? Christians repeat this phrase a lot, but it’s more than a buzz phrase. It doest not mean we look like God. God is a spiritual being, except in the person of Jesus—and it would be a stretch to say we all look like him (though we love to make him look like us, or at least our own ethnicity, in our paintings). There is a deeper meaning to it, so let’s take a quick look at a few Bible verses:
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Gen 1:26-27, emphasis mine)
What are some observations we can glean from these verses? “Image” is connected to “likeness.” Humankind, both male and female, are made in his image. The fact that God created us is also emphasized through repetition.
Similar wording is used in a different situation in Genesis 5, right before the genealogy leading from Adam to Noah:
This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2 Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. 3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. (Gen 5:1-3, emphasis mine)
First, a side note: no, “130 years” is not a typo. People lived longer in the early days, before the Flood. Yes, I really believe that. But it’s not relevant to the current topic, so let’s move on.
In the verses above, it’s repeated that mankind was made in God’s likeness, starting with Adam. Then, Seth was in his father’s likeness, in his image. Seth obviously wasn’t a carbon copy of Adam. But there’s a likeness and a connection with his father, and with God. In this context, especially at the beginning of a genealogy, it is connected with heritage, relationship, identity.
There’s a taste of what the Bible says about being made in God’s image, and I encourage you to do your own study. But what are the implications? Here’s a small sample:
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image. (Gen 9:6)
In this passage, God is talking to Noah and his sons after the flood. He’s saying that murder is punishable by death because he made human beings in his own image.
But it’s not enough to protect people physically.
9 With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:9-10)
James is writing especially to Christians. It’s ludicrous to praise God, then turn around and curse the very people made in his image. Men and woman require more than that.
So, people are made in God’s image, and we need to treat them well because of that. There are many other verses about what sets man apart, and about loving each other. But what are some applications?
First, we need to actively value other human beings. Build them up instead of tear them down. Watch how we speak about each other.
Unlike Akashi, we need to view people in a holistic light, beyond their usefulness in a single situation. Our value and dignity don’t come from what we do, but from who we are as human beings. Everyone is precious, and no one should be belittled as a lesser being or lower class.
Since we are made in God’s image, we have an opportunity to mirror his love, justice, mercy, and so much more. We can’t do it on our own; sin nature is still a problem. But the opportunities are there, and they multiply when we get to know God’s Word, and when he comes alongside us to help.
We miss out when we don’t see the image of God in others, when we treat them as less than whole, relational, amazing people. Akashi has a talent for identifying the strengths in people and training them, but he squanders the talent on single-minded, uncaring tyranny. It’s sad. He’s missing out on himself and on others, and so is everyone around him. I hope that Kuroko and Kagami can beat some sense into him in the last few minutes of this game. Like so many people in real life, Akashi is an incredible human being, but his twisted beliefs hold him back from being all he could be. He could build people up, but ultimately, he tears them down, diminishes them to tools at best.
One last thing: being made in God’s image isn’t just about humankind’s glory. Ultimately, it should point back to him and his glory. That’s one more reason Akashi’s basketball is so wrong: he makes it about his own glory, when he doesn’t really deserve it. All glory goes to God, including for how he has made not only the “strong,” but also the “weak” among us.