Kobe Bryant won an Oscar… Neat. Okay honestly, Kobe took home the trophy the moment it was announced that “Dear Basketball,” the three and a half minute short film about Bryant’s love for the sport of basketball, narrated by the Mamba himself, was named a finalist for “Best Animated Short Film.” Bryant was by far the biggest name out of the other writers and directors for the other four short movies, and the publicity for his film was greater than some full-length features at the award show.
Bryant’s film was last year’s Golden State Warriors so to speak: the overwhelming favorite backed by enough star power to light up the sky, and it swept through opponents with ease. Does that mean the film was not deserving of its award? Well, let’s not get too extreme. Watching the film itself, the film touches on a special nostalgia that can only come from an older man looking back on his life and his love.
Kobe Bryant’s NBA career stretches two full decades, from 1996-2016. During his career, Bryant established himself as one of the greatest all around players in the league’s history. The film opens with the shot clock counting down from twelve seconds and an announcer saying “it’s a one point game.” Then we see one of the many great highlights of Bryant, dunking on Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries of the Brooklyn Nets, winning the game.
But the events themselves are false. Bryant’s dunk was not a buzzer beater, but just a late game dunk. In the game, there was still two minutes left. Out of all the great dunks Bryant has made throughout his career, this one is lucky to break the top ten. So why lie about a real-life situation? Well, the dunk marked a turning point to Bryant’s career. At this point, Kobe had spent 17 seasons in the NBA and had reached the age of 34, ancient in the basketball world. Two months later, Bryant would tear his Achilles tendon, beginning a two year odyssey where he would play in only one-fourth of Laker games over the next two years. After the two years, Bryant played one more season in the league. This would be his worst overall season, and had it not been for a spectacular 60 point game in his final game, fans would be left with a bad taste in their mouths thinking about Kobe’s last season.
After the highlight, the viewer is taken back to a young Bryant, talking about using his father’s tube socks as basketballs and pretending to be taking game winning shots. The rest of the film shows memories of Bryant falling in love with the game. The movie then concludes with him at the end NBA career and realizing his body cannot keep up with the pace of the league, forcing him to retire from the game he loves.
The film is suppose to be a love letter to basketball for Bryant. The content of the run time is split between Bryant in his adolescent years and Bryant as a Laker. And it is here where the animation really shows. The film is animated in black and white using line drawings, with color used very sparingly, only showing color when we see Bryant’s purple and gold Lakers jersey. The film combines childhood and adult memories of Kobe, illustrating both how important basketball was for him and just how long he played in the NBA. Bryant was drafted at 17 years old, electing to skip college and retired two decades later. As of today, Bryant is 39. Meaning that the majority of his life has been spent playing in the NBA.
This film has been criticized for being a little self indulgent and does not show some of the less cheery sides of Bryant’s career, like his feuds with Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson, his 2003 sexual assault allegation (which makes this even more interesting because of the Me Too Movement at the Oscars) and the fact that Kobe’s talked about the importance that rage played in his game. And though there is some validity to this mindset, the film was not about Bryant’s career or his accomplishment but his first love. It is a nostalgic look back by a retired man remembering how he got to this point in his life, and it is a love letter to the sport. That is why it’s titled “Dear Basketball.”