Patrick Kane: The ties that bind us

In the offseason, Kane is never far from his South Buffalo family and friends. KC Armstrong for ESPN The Magazine


They are everywhere, in life as in hockey.


In the game they are blue and red, straight and bent, all of them telling the players of the National Hockey League where they should be and when they should be there.

In life they are not so easy to discern. Who tells us when we have passed from child to adult? Where is the line that separates public persona from private person? How do we know when brash has become boorish? What is the signal for the moment individualism has morphed into selfishness?

In hockey, as in all pro sports -- in all forms of celebrity, really -- toeing those unseen lines may be the most important skill, the one that allows ordinary mortals to do extraordinary things, to catch lightning in a bottle and hold it there, defying all rational expectations until such feats begin to seem routine.
And then, as if in a magician's trick, an athlete comes along who reveals the lines for us, who allows us to watch him flirt with those hazy boundaries, and we wonder anew at the talent required to navigate them.