Even as Kobe Bryant poured his heart into a retirement letter thanking the game of basketball for giving him so much, he knew he wanted to do more.
So after Bryant stepped away from the NBA last April following 20 stellar seasons and five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, he made it his mission to bring the letter he titled “Dear Basketball” to life.
“As I was writing it, I had the idea in my head of creating an animated film from it,” Bryant told the Daily News. “When I sat down to write, I could either say what I was feeling to the game, or I could visually communicate. If I’m speaking to someone, I think it’s always better to speak through stories, to speak through visual images.”
Bryant, 38, assembled an all-star roster of collaborators to help him develop the project, which he premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last Saturday. He enlisted legendary composer John Williams to score the short film and veteran Disney artist Glen Keane — whose credits include “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” — to illustrate it.
The result is a visually stunning animated short consisting of spot-on sketches of Bryant, both as a kid and an adult, that act out the Lakers legend’s narration as he reads his heartfelt ode to the sport.
“It’s an arc of understanding that things come to an end,” Bryant said of the project. “When things come to an end, we can either embrace that change and welcome the change, or we can be resistant to that change. I found myself being at peace with this transition, and with the finality, with my career coming to an end.”
The 15-time NBA All-Star had a hands-on approach in creating the “Dear Basketball” film. He met with Keane early on to watch his old highlights and discuss not only how he physically made some of iconic plays that defined his career, but also what was flowing through his mind at the time.
The quality of the final product left Keane buzzing.
“There was such detail, far more than anything we’ve ever done at Disney, in this film. This is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever animated. By far,” Keane told the Daily News. “Because Kobe’s a real person, it has to look like him.”
The “Dear Basketball” film was one of just 57 shorts chosen out of 4,400 submitted to Tribeca. It figures to be one of the first of many major projects Bryant has coming down the pipeline.
The former NBA MVP decided to devote his post-playing days to pursuing his newfound passion in telling stories. He currently has more films, series and novels in the works — which are certainly keeping him busy after retirement.
“It’s been great. Just been writing away. Writing and creating away,” Bryant said. “It’s fantastic that I get the chance to wake up in the morning and work with extremely creative people and try to figure out ways that we can create things that inspire the next generation.”
Bryant says he doesn’t miss playing in the NBA a year after hanging up his purple-and-gold No. 24 jersey for good. He didn’t even realize he didn’t own the NBA TV package until a couple of months ago.
For the first time in his adult life, he has something entirely new to focus on.
“It’s completely fresh. From an early age, I knew what my path was going to be. Play in the NBA, win championships, so on and so on,” he said. “And now life has thrown something completely unexpected, that I didn’t see coming, and it feels great just to go for the ride and enjoy it.”