REVIEW: Dear Basketball [2017]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


Rating: NR | Runtime: 6 minutes | Release Date: 2017 (USA)
Studio: Gunpowder & Sky
Director(s): Glen Keane
Writer(s): Kobe Bryant

“I did everything for you”

“Money” is a word used to describe Kobe Bryant the athlete because he was the guy you gave the ball to with no time on the clock. Everyone could rely on him whether coach, teammate, or fan because we knew the chances were that a good look at the hoop would result in a basket. He was “money.” As a result of the career that proved this point, Kobe accrued a lot of money in the literal sense of the word too. And with that money he discovered he could create a production studio (Kobe Studios), hire director/animator Glen Keane and composer John Williams, and bring to life a poem he wrote to announce his retirement. He made something heartfelt for the fans into something all about himself.

I’ll admit that the original poem Dear Basketball contains a powerful message about living a dream and inspiring others to follow in those footsteps. It was the type of candid soliloquy that has made Derek Jeter’s inspired platform The Players’ Tribune such an effective way to hear from athletes without a journalistic second-hand filter. But he wrote it November 29, 2015 and played his last game on April 13, 2016. He closed that chapter with affecting prose that surely gained him a lot of respect from many people despite a checkered past marred by controversy off the court. It was a high-note despite the season itself being a low. It shared his love for a game that has meant something so pure to so many for decades.

Deciding to bring it to life visually should have one motivation: the game. There are great moments here where the young Kobe throwing a rolled up sock is superimposed over the adult Kobe shooting with thousands in the stands and it all looks gorgeous with Keane’s loose yet contained pencil-work. But it’s also all Kobe. While this would be okay if someone else made it as a tribute, it feels overwhelmingly self-serving to see the first credit as “created and narrated by Kobe Bryant.” Not written, but created. This is a vanity project for a guy who doesn’t need the vanity anymore. The poem resonates because of its universal message. So make it non-descript. Make it about a boy becoming a man, not Kobe becoming Kobe.

Maybe this is my bias towards a millionaire using his resources, talents, and creativity to erect a shrine in his own image, but I cannot in good conscience appreciate something that comes off so manufactured. As a work of animation it is stellar and does deserve its Oscar nomination on a purely aesthetic level. But how can you look past the ego? It’s one thing to commission something about you that’s also for you and another to actively create it yourself. It’s almost as though Bryant looked back at his poem and realized how anonymous it was and missed the point that its anonymity was what made it a genuine classic. Kobe repurposed this piece that spoke from his soul into one whose voice now speaks from pride.

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