Kobe Bryant's Oscar-Winning Director: "We Talked About Our Love of Beethoven" (Guest Column)

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Glen Keane, the legendary Disney animator who helped Bryant make 'Dear Basketball,' writes about their first meeting: "I put out my hand and he pulled me in for a hug."

In the fall of 2015, Kobe arrived at our little West Hollywood studio. As he and his beautiful family stepped out of their SUV, I wished someone in the neighborhood was there to witness it. But it was just our humble little team.

As he walked toward me, I wondered, "Do I shake his hand? How do you greet a legend?" I put out my hand and he pulled me in for a hug. As he stepped into our humble 1920s Spanish duplex, I hoped he would not bump his head on the low arch separating the living room from the dining room. He stood silently and looked around at the walls covered with storyboards and sketches. "What’s he thinking?" I wondered. "Perfect," he said.

For him, it was real. No polish. Just a group of artists working with our hands. And he wanted Dear Basketball to feel real.

We gathered around my animation desk as I drew the Beast, Ariel and Pocahontas for his girls. I remember how close he was to his girls, and how close this family felt. The image that will now forever be etched in my mind is of Gianna nestled in his lap, so content with Kobe stroking her beautiful hair. So much love!

I confessed to Kobe he had asked the worst basketball player in the world to animate him. He told me that was good because now everything I know about the game will come from studying him. We talked about, of all things, our love of Beethoven. I told him how I animated the transformation of Beast (in Beauty & the Beast) to Beethoven’s 9th. I saw his eyes light up — the Mamba face — as he talked passionately about how he structured the tempo of a championship game to Beethoven’s Fifth. We bonded creatively right then.

Knowing Kobe was one of those out-of-the-blue gifts straight from God’s hands, still with the scent of heaven on it.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.