Bryant takes on a new ball game

Former NBA champion Kobe Bryant (left) and former Disney animator Glen Keane’s film, Dear Basketball, is a favourite for the Oscar for animated short next month.
Former NBA champion Kobe Bryant (left) and former Disney animator Glen Keane’s film, Dear Basketball, is a favourite for the Oscar for animated short next month.

LOS ANGELES • When Kobe Bryant decided to make a film of Dear Basketball, his farewell poem to the sport he loved, he did not pass the ball to a collaborator who knew everything about the game.

Instead, he teamed up with former Disney artist Glen Keane, who had animated Beauty And The Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and Tarzan (1999) - and knew zilch about the sport. It was a slam dunk of a move.

Their film won the Annie Award - the animation industry's most prestigious - for last year's best short film and is a favourite for the Oscar for animated short next month.

Bryant, 39, said: "Someone who's been watching basketball his whole life - and playing it - tends to miss the small moves, the details.

"When you come at it with fresh eyes, you look at every single thing because it's all new."

Keane, 63, did not exactly have a ball of a time, saying it "was the most difficult thing I've animated".

"I was trying to draw a moving sculpture in space that had to look exactly like Kobe. I could draw Beast any way I wanted: Nobody knows what Beast really looks like. Everybody knows Kobe."

Bryant, who spent two decades with the Los Angeles Lakers in a run that included five NBA titles, said he wanted a younger generation of athletes to learn "about the emotional journey of having a dream, believing it'll come true; it comes true, then the realisation that you have to wake up from that dream and move on to another".

But the animated short has also courted some controversy, with #MeToo activists saying a 2003 sexual assault case against Bryant is reason not to reward the movie. (The case was dismissed.)

An online petition is also seeking to rescind the nod.

Bryant, meanwhile, is running with other balls and developing ideas for films.

"Ageing can be very difficult for athletes," he said. "We train our whole lives, we dedicate ourselves to a craft we have to leave early because our bodies will not allow us to go on.

"What you've done for so long becomes who you are and it's very, very difficult to walk away from it and do something else," he noted.

"So to be two years into retirement and have an Oscar nomination means so much."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2018, with the headline 'Bryant takes on a new ball game'. Print Edition | Subscribe