Please Be Selfish, Kobe

This is my first blog post, so I should start by explaining why I am starting a blog. After all, there are plenty of blogs out there, many of them good, and many of them say, as well or better than I can, things I agree with. At least I think that’s true, because in fact I’ve spent relatively little time reading people’s blogs. I feel as though I should be reading more…if I could find more time in the day to do so.

I finally decided to start my own blog after reading this story at It says that, contained in one of the many monstrosities that Congress plans to pass in the near future, is a provision that will give the Federal Election Commission “unprecedented power to regulate political speech online” — including the regulation of political blogs. Yes, that’s right. The power to regulate political speech.

I doubt that I need to explain the significance of this to anyone who is motivated to actually read my blog. You probably know that I agree with Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, and that I also think she did a damn good job of using her philosophy to analyze and predict political trends. Rand believed that free speech was the pivotal issue in politics, that so long as we have the right to speak our minds, there is still the possibility of convincing others and of thereby reversing the decades-long trend towards statism in our country. So, when I read this news story, the first thing I thought was, even if I didn’t have anything particularly original to say, it was nonetheless important to jump into the fray now, before it was too late, just as a matter of principle.

Since the purpose of this blog is to challenge authority, I’ll start by saying a couple of controversial things about a topic which is not usually thought of as controversial from a moral or political standpoint: basketball. Tonight I watched the Lakers lose game four of their playoff series with the Phoenix Suns. Kobe Bryant had an excellent game, by all accounts. He scored 38 points. Moreover, he scored them all in quarters 2, 3 and 4. Why didn’t he score any points in the first quarter? He shot only once that quarter (and he missed). We were told during a between-quarters interview of Phil Jackson that Kobe was, to paraphrase, “trying to get his teammates involved.” In other words, to use the language often used in basketball commentary today, Kobe was being “unselfish.” Selfishness, we hear time and again, is a vice of basketball players, something to be avoided. Even play-by-play commentary makes use of the term: we often see a particularly skillful assist praised as an “unselfish” play. Objectivism upholds selfishness — i.e., the pursuit of one’s rational self-interest — as a virtue, and so each time I hear this it makes me cringe.

I am not saying I want Kobe to be a “ball hog” — unless that is what it takes for the Lakers to win. (Note that I am presuming that the Lakers have hired Kobe to help them win. If they have hired him for some other purpose, let me know.) If the way for the Lakers to win is for Kobe to shoot as much as he did during the last three quarters tonight, for the entire game, then that’s what he should do. But wouldn’t it be selfish for Kobe to do that? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps Kobe would not want to almost singlehandedly cause the Lakers to win on a night that, to quote Kobe, the Lakers’ “defense sucked.” Perhaps it would not be in the long-term (or even shorter-term) interest of the Lakers for him to do that, as it might just encourage the other players to continue to slack off. But if it would be selfish for Kobe to play that way, during a particular game, notwithstanding the suckiness of the Lakers’ defense, that’s what he should do.

“But selfishness isn’t appropriate in a team situation,” some say. Here is where today’s NBA could stand to learn a lot from successful businesses. BB&T, for example, has done an excellent job of translating a proper moral philosophy into effective business practice. To read what they say about teamwork, and why it is consistent with selfishness, click here. Oh, and feel free to pass the link on to Kobe Bryant and/or Phil Jackson.

Teamwork is not only consistent with selfishness, it is indispensable to selfishness in any context that requires the coordinated effort of multiple individuals working towards a common goal (say, a championship ring). By the same token, selfishness is indispensable to proper teamwork. That is just one of the many lessons to be learned from the success of BB&T.

As for the Lakers themselves, this series, it may be that not even selfishness can ensure they will win. The Suns are playing extremely well and, what’s worse, our President apparently picked the Lakers to win. If his track record with endorsing political candidates recently is any indication, the Lakers are in trouble.

There, I managed to get in an obligatory dig at the President, too.

Thanks for reading!


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11 responses to “Please Be Selfish, Kobe

  1. Rainer Quesada

    Unfortunately for most of the world they have accepted the Judeo/Christian view of selfishness. So when we hear commentators speak of selfishness it is in that vain. Kobe gets the short end of the stick when he takes the game into his own hands and they lose. If the Lakers win too much with him dominating he gets knocked for that. I think Kobe would fit in perfectly in Galt’s Gulch with his work ethic and desire to be the best.

    • It would be interesting to know if he has ever read _The Fountainhead_. In any event, life will be good, so long as the Lakers’ defense doesn’t “suck” tomorrow night AND Kobe does his thing.

  2. Amy,

    Great start of your new blog!

    Do you want to be a guest on my podcast show EGO?

    All the Best,


  3. Enjoyed that.

    I remember reading an article years ago about the great Bill Russell, 11 time champion with the Boston Celtics, where he described himself as a “very selfish” player.

    I found the 1999 Sports Illustrated article online, The Ring Leader and here are the relevant passages:

    “The finest team player ever is by nature a loner who, by his own lights, achieved such group success because of his abject selfishness…..”
    “Russell’s simple key to a successful team was to encourage each player to do what he did best. “Remember,” he says, “each of us has a finite amount of energy, and things you do well don’t require as much. Things you don’t do well take more concentration. And if you’re fatigued by that, then the things you do best are going to be affected.” The selfishness of successful team play—”I was very selfish,” he declares—sounds paradoxical, but a team profits if each player revels in his strength. Still, Russell points out, there is a fine line between idealistic shared greed and typical self-gratification. “You must let your energy flow to the team,” he says.”

    I would love to hear him as a commentator during a game so he can persuade his colleagues to think before they use the word “unselfish” about players who assist teammates in getting a basket, as if players have no self-interest in their teammates scoring.

    • Thanks, Bosch. Let’s just say I’m not surprised that the player with the most rings “gets it.” And yes, if he could be a commentator, that would be a breath of fresh air compared to what we’ve been hearing.

  4. Amy,

    We could talk about your new blog, law studies, hobbies, etc. What do you want to talk about? 🙂

  5. Jeff B.

    I agree in principle. Except in basketball, an essential element is knowing when to be selfish and when to let others on the team be selfish. Passing! In the NBA, the concept of well played team basketball seems largely to be lost. Although in hindsight the Lakers obviously had enough to win. If however the game was played as it was intended, with much more passing, the Lakers would be even more successful, and it would be even more enjoyable for spectators.

    • I agree that often — game 7 of the finals series was a prime example! — it is better to do a lot of passing. My only point is that, in those cases, it is *selfish* for Kobe to pass the ball more. What I object to is the conventional wisdom among sports commentators that teamwork is somehow at odds with selfishness. It’s not. And if Kobe tried being a ball hog in game 7, that would NOT have been selfish!

      Thanks for reading and weighing in!

  6. I just discovered your website, Ms. Peikoff; great job from a great lady–keep it up! As a Laker-fan (and Kobe-fan, in particular), I, too, have been upset by the constant NBA-reference to “unselfishness” that sickens me as if hearing a foul-mouthed cuss-word. Rhetorical question for such NBA-ers: If a player passes a ball to another player that is in a BETTER position to score (in order to ultimately WIN the game), then how is that anything but a SELFISH move on that player’s part? (It’s my hunch that most players would probably agree with this but are inhibited from publicly expressing that due to the obvious Altruist-agenda of the league’s owners, coaches and media-reps.)

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