Five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant is also the first professional athlete to win an Oscar. His short ‘Dear Basketball’ distinctively shined at the 90th Annual Academy Awards, pioneering the inclusion of mainstream sports in animated non-fiction.

Kobe Bryant became the first professional athlete to win an Academy Award when his short film Dear Basketball conquered the Oscars. Source: Commons.Wikimedia
Kobe Bryant became the first professional athlete to win an Academy Award when his short film Dear Basketball conquered the Oscars. Source: Commons.Wikimedia

Basketball prodigy Kobe Bryant passed away along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a fateful helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. Since his passing, most of Bryant’s eulogies have commemorated his athletic excellence for which he was well-reputed. There has however only been a scarce discussion about Kobe Bryant’s filmography.

Bryant undisputedly carved a niche with his sporting achievements – which includes five NBA trophies and two Olympic gold medals – but he also left a significant mark in the entertainment industry. In 2018, Kobe Bryant became the first sports champion to win an Oscar. His 5-minute-movie Dear Basketball was the first Best Animated Short Film win for an African-American producer.

Dear Basketball: What Is The History Behind Kobe Bryant’s Award-Winning Short Film?

When Kobe Bryant left the NBA after the 2015 season, he sonneted his retirement in a heartfelt anecdote that was later published in The Players Tribune. Dear Basketball was Bryant’s poignant appreciation of the sport that gave him an identity. It was a love letter to the passion that inspired a 6-year-old boy to become a legend.

Dear Basketball is based on Kobe Bryant's retirement letter. Source: Commons.Wikimedia
Dear Basketball is based on Kobe Bryant’s retirement letter. Source: Commons.Wikimedia

Two years after Bryant had penned his career sign-off, veteran Disney animator Glen Keane approached the Los Angeles Lakers powerhouse with the prospect of rendering his letter into a featurette. Kobe Bryant, who treasured Dear Basketball deeply, acknowledged Keane’s proposal and joined the acclaimed illustrator to adapt the poem.

Dear Basketball was released on April 23, 2017, via go90 – an internet television service; Keane was in-charge of animation and direction, while Kobe Bryant scripted and narrated the short.

What Won Kobe Bryant And Dear Basketball An Oscar?

https://youtu.be/8Q1LSZc4hDg
Kobe Bryant’s Dear Basketball won the Academy Award for the Best Animated Short Film at the 90th Annual Academy Awards.

The Academy’s short-film category isn’t accustomed to prolific names helming its nominations. So when Kobe Bryant’s passion-project got picked up for the competition, it created a natural buzz. A starry disposition did help hype up Dear Basketball, but truly it was the sentimental farewell at the core that made the short stand out.

The Story: An Endearing Epistle

Dear Basketball has been lauded for both its cinematography and story. When Kobe Bryant penned the one-reeler, he put his heart out in outlining his younger self’s obsession with the sport. Kobe started off as a curious celebrity child of a seasoned NBA star Joe Bryant; Bryant was impressed with his father’s game-winning shots and he often attempted to mimic them as a kid.

In Dear Basketball Kobe Bryant mentions that his father's victories inspired him to take up basketball. Source: Wikipedia
In Dear Basketball Kobe Bryant mentions that his father’s victories inspired him to take up basketball. Source: Wikipedia

Kobe’s penchant for shining on the Forum gradually developed into an enthusiasm for basketball. As a child, Kobe would roll up his knee-highs, and dribble until he was fatigued. He sweated, fell, hustled, but it wasn’t bopping or grinding because Kobe played out of love.

In Dear Basketball, Kobe Bryant narrates how he went from an impassioned basketball-loving child to a professional athlete. Source: Flickr
In Dear Basketball, Kobe Bryant narrates how he went from an impassioned basketball-loving child to a professional athlete. Source: Flickr

Kobe Bryant eventually grew from a 6-year-old ardent basketball fan into a Los Angeles Lakers’ Shooting Guard. But what remained constant during the transition was an endearment for the striped round orange ball. Bryant loved his sport more than anything. And eventually, it was his fondness for the game that persuaded Bryant to let it go.

Dear Basketball enlightens the motivation behind Kobe Bryant’s decision to quit professional basketball. When Bryant was in the court, a fire burned inside him – a zeal for victory seized him. Bryant was so committed to his sport he felt that he owed it a magnificent game every time he was in the stadium. His passion had developed into an obsession. Bryant knew that to attain inner-peace and satisfaction, he needed to distance himself from professional basketball.

By the time he retired, Bryant had fulfilled his role in the game. Before bidding the competitive game adieu, Bryant secured several golden moments and victories to cherish and celebrate.

The Cinematography: A Watercolor Experiment Gone Right

Veteran Disney cartoonist Glen Keane had helmed Kobe Bryant's Dear Basketball. Source: Wikipedia
Veteran Disney cartoonist Glen Keane had helmed Kobe Bryant’s Dear Basketball. Source: Wikipedia

Long-serving animator Glen Keane bagged his first Oscar win with Dear Basketball. Keane’s pencilled retelling of Kobe Bryant’s retiral letter was artfully arresting and innovative. For his joint-venture with NBA star Kobe Bryant, Keane resorted to the masterful use of multiple layers and soft graphite.

In Dear Basketball, Glen Keane audaciously experimented with his illustrations. He toyed with everything from pencils, erasers and even iPhones for his artwork. He combined the manual drawings in photo-editing software, creating carefully detailed independent frames that rotoscoped into each other smoothly.

Dear Basketball features ingenious graphite art from Glen Keane. Source: Vimeo
Dear Basketball features ingenious graphite art from Glen Keane. Source: Vimeo

Apart from Glen Keane’s artistic impressions, Dear Basketball also lent a score from John Williams. Williams’ composition was potent, although it did not contribute much to the mini-movie’s feeling.

Dear Basketball made viewers fall in love with the sport without any inherent knowledge of it. It is a relatable tale of material infatuation, a narration of a passion-tryst that had reached its pinnacle and was due a farewell.

Some viewers may confuse the film’s individuality with ego-mania, but Bryant’s focus on two characters, him and basketball, isn’t misguided. Bryant had deliberately limited the breadth of his poem because it was about a one-to-one correspondence; it was a sportsman’s note to his game, and in that universe, there wasn’t space for more characters.