“If you asked me when I was 10 years old if I would be here now—that I would be here—I would have said, ‘You’re absolutely nuts,’” Kobe Bryant admits, sitting down at Deadline’s Tribeca Studio to discuss his animated short film Dear Basketball. “But that’s the beautiful thing about life, isn’t it?”
One of the greatest basketball players of all time who had an illustrious 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant decided to announce his retirement in November 2015 in the form of a poem, “Dear Basketball,” which he published through The Player’s Tribune. A tender and celebratory poem, “Dear Basketball” was really a love story, in which Bryant discussed his lifelong love affair with basketball, thanking the sport for giving him the life he was destined to live.
“Retirement is such a big thing—I’ve been playing the game for 20 years, and started playing something from the age of two. So [when] you’re going to walk away from it, what do you say? You can’t just be like, ‘Okay, peace out,'” Bryant says, discussing the genesis of the poem. “If I was going to write a message to the game, thanking the game for everything that we’ve been through, everything that the game has done for me, what would I say?”
After publishing the poem, Bryant found himself interested in expressing himself through visual form, which led to the Tribeca-premiering short directed by legendary Disney animator Glen Keane, the man behind such beloved Disney characters as the Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Aladdin, the Beast, Tarzan, and Rapunzel. “I had done a film for Google called Duet—you follow a little girl and a little boy on their course of life, and you watch them grow up, and it was a hand-drawn film through Spotlight Stories,” Keane explains. “I think [Bryant] had seen it, and amazingly, Kobe asked if I would animate Dear Basketball.”
What Bryant gravitated to in much of Keane’s work was his unique capabilities in producing work with a certain hand touch—Duet, being only one example of the artist’s creative inclinations. “I figured, this story needs a hand touch—it can’t be done through CG. It’s the quality of a hand touch, because a career was built piece by piece, so we need to have that hand craftsmanship,” Bryant says. “Glen obviously was the first name that came to mind.”
“To me, drawing—I’m talking about a pencil, drawing—really is an expression of your soul,” Keane adds. “It’s like a seismograph of your soul. You put a line down, and it’s feeling and emotion.”
Known for his incredible performance on the court, people may not know that Bryant considers himself a very passionate aficionado of the medium of animation. “From growing up with Japanese anime to the classic Disney pieces, I’ve been a huge animation fan for a while,” he says. “I just feel like animation can communicate more things, and more levels, than live action can, at times. I think there’s certain things that can be expressed through animation, be it emotion, or a conscious thought, or a subconscious idea.”
Approaching basketball from an artistic perspective, Bryant now looks forward to pursuing further artistic outlets. “I’m very fortunate—it’s hard, particularly for athletes, to be able to move away from the game, to transition into something new that they love just as much, if not more,” Bryant adds. “It feels great to be here now.”
To see Deadline’s conversation with Kobe Bryant and Glen Keane for yourself, click above. Upcoming screenings of the short—curated by Whoopi Goldberg—can be found here.