Yes, I’m returning to Kuroko’s Basketball. The power was out last night, so I couldn’t catch up on new shows, and I was forced to use a topic that I’ve been thinking about since before last season ended. Spoilers ahead.
I’ve written before about why Akashi’s approach to basketball is wrong. But there’s another aspect to it: He relies on his own strength to keep his friends close, to win games, and to continue doing what he loves. So far, that’s worked for him. But that doesn’t mean it always will, and Kuroko shows him that in the end.
“I am absolute,” Akashi repeats throughout Kurobas. Those who play against him lose, and those who follow him win. In his mind, he has the strength—and thus the right—to play basketball as a tyrant, to force weaker players to literally fall before him.
Akashi glorifies himself out of fear: fear that he’ll lose and be forced to quit basketball by his father, and fear that his teammates will surpass him, stop following him, and ultimately stop playing with him. These fears are understandable, but they are also self-centered. They come from focusing on his own concerns, rather than those of his teammates.
I’ll focus on the relational fear, since it is primary to the conflict, and because I think most of us can identify with it. In middle school, Akashi enjoyed playing with his team. But as the Generation of Miracles grew stronger, they grew apart. The team began wining for victory’s sake. In episode 73, Akashi recalls, “and around then all their individual talents started to bloom, one after another. That growth turned into the fear that I couldn’t handle them… as well as the anxiety that they would leave me behind.”
Aomine, who perhaps loved basketball more than any of them, became frustrated because “no one can beat me but me.” Without a challenging opponent, he began to lose interest in the game and stop coming to practice. Murasakibara also grew bored and threatened to stop coming. Akashi panicked and challenged him to a one-on-one match. At first, it looked like Murasakibara would win, but Akashi overcame, securing his place at the top. He explains later, “I had to stay the strongest so that I could continue to play with them.”
Most of us can empathize with Akashi’s anxiety. How many of us have felt our friends will not only surpass us, but leave us? Sometimes, I don’t want to attempt friendship, because I can already see that the other person is a high-achiever. With the friends I already have, the anxiety plays a more subtle role: my insecurity has been partially about my ability to make friends. So when close friends moved away and immediately made new friends, and I didn’t, I fought fears about not being needed as their friend—I didn’t realize that “need” had very little to do with it, that we could appreciate our friendship even if our social needs were met by others.
Good relationships aren’t just about fulfilling your own needs. When we are focused on our own emotional, physical, or even athletic needs, rather than on filling the needs of others, we aren’t just being a little selfish. We’re failing to love as Jesus loves. We’re at risk of becoming like Akashi—manipulative, abusive, forcing others into some sort of relationship with us, even if it’s no longer a healthy one. Or we’re at risk of turning inside ourselves and becoming resentful, depressed, anxious. Akashi chose to become a tyrant of his own team, and then their tyrannical opponent—at first, to hold onto them, and then because he forgot there was ever another way to relate to them.
“I tried to keep them together by winning,” he continues to reflect. “They who were irreplaceable. That was the only way I knew how. That weakness was what created you.”
His personality split. He put away the self that longed to play with his teammates and instead focused on proving his own strength. In the process, he forgot why he needed to be strong in the first place. He feared losing friends because they wouldn’t need to play with him anymore, and because of that, he lost almost all sense of camaraderie, all closeness, all honesty. He even tried to replace Kuroko on his next team, this time with a player who didn’t care about his teammates, the way Kuroko did.
Akashi tried to become a player who doesn’t need anyone, but instead is needed. This, perhaps, shows even more how lost he was by the end. He tried to play Seirin practically by himself for part of the championship game, because he decided his teammates were unreliable.
This is another relational dysfunction many of us fall into: trying to be independent in every way, and denying our need for others. If we are the absolute in our lives, if we can thrive emotionally, socially, athletically, etc. on our own, then we don’t need to fear being left behind. If others rely on us, then our position is sealed… right?
Problem: there’s only one Absolute Being, only one who can thrive on his own, who needs no one, who everyone needs. That’s God. And even he, described as One, is a complex one: three persons, one essence. He is complete and relational in his Triune nature. He made us to rely on him, to be in relationship with him… and relationship with others.
God does not need us, but he loves us. We need him, but we love him because he loves us. And if we loves others the way we are called, the way he loves, then we love them not because we need them, but because we know they are worth it, they are precious.
If we try to secure relationships based on our need, or based on fostering a need for ourselves, we set ourselves up to be more than we are. Akashi is a prime example: he glorified himself, because he hoped his strength would secure relationship. It’s idolatry. And ultimately, it leads to isolation and pain.
Healthy relationships require vulnerability, and it starts with vulnerability toward God, with admitting that we’re not absolute, that we aren’t independent, that we need God on every level: spiritual, physical, emotional, mental. And in our relationships with others, we must understand that we aren’t what they really need. They need God just as we do. We can’t save them, and the good we can give them—such as victory—is nothing compared to the glory they can experience in Christ.