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When Kobe Bryant retired from the NBA last year, he penned a poem entitled “Dear Basketball,” a love letter to the game that is now a short film.
Illustrated by legendary Disney animator Glen Keane and scored by John Williams, the short Dear Basketball visually presents Bryant’s poem as black-and-white sketches, with only Bryant’s purple and gold Laker colors as accents. It premiered Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival, with a discussion with Bryant, Keane and moderator Michael Strahan.
During the chat, Bryant spoke about his newfound love for storytelling, which he believes is his purpose. “The best way to inspire is through story, it tends to sink in more,” he said. And though he didn’t mention whether he has more poems or short films in the works, he is plenty satisfied with what became of his initial post-NBA hobby. “I was happy I wrote something Glen and John believed in,” Bryant said. “And that I could do something other than play basketball.”
Keane agreed, adding of the project, “This was by far the most difficult thing I’ve animated by a mile…. It was so encouraging to me, I felt very humbled. When I left Disney, I knew it was because I was meant to do something but I never thought I’d be asked to animate Kobe.”
Bryant’s biggest inspiration: Michael Jackson. “It’s the craziest story — I was working out at Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach and my phone rings, and it’s Michael Jackson. I was like ‘What? Why?’” Bryant recalled to the audience. “It was this moment in time where I was really focused on my game, and I was getting a lot of flack for being too focused, being too serious. He was a big basketball fan, so he called just to tell me to stay on the right track, keep focused.
“I said, ‘OK, well how did you do it?’ And he just went into his whole process of how he studied the greats, how he studied every note in all the Beatles’ classics to try to figure out if there’s a connection between that piece of music and Mozart’s piece of music,” Bryant continued. “He said, ‘You have to study the greats, learn everything about them.’ He showed me all kinds of James Brown, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly; he showed me, ‘This is where I learned this, this is where I learned that.’ I thought I was working hard until I met him, and he became my mentor. I’ve had a lot of muses in my life, a lot of inspirations, but he is the chief.”
He also revealed that he’s an unlikely inspiration for Beyonce: “I took my girls to see Beyonce in concert, and we went backstage,” he said. “I told her, ‘You killed it tonight,’ and she said, ‘I learned it from you.'”
A version of this story first appeared on Billboard.com.
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