MovieMonday: Dear Basketball

This is the animated short film that won Kobe Bryant an Academy Award two years ago.  Appropriately, it is dubbed here in Italian, the language he learned when his family lived in Italy and his father played basketball for the Italian league.

Bryant wrote and narrated the words, which he posted first on a Players Tribune website at the end of his 20-year NBA career.   The very good animation and musical score turn a poem that, in lesser hands, might have veered toward corny but instead is a genuine reflection on a dream realized and remembered.

The story is sincere.  Bryant conceived his wish to play for the Los Angeles Lakers when he was a boy, and from that time until he retired from basketball in 2016, he “embodied hard work,” as a young friend told me.

Here’s how Bryant put it in an interview with Jay Williams, a Chicago Bulls alum:  “I wanted you to know that it doesn’t matter how hard you work, that I’m willing to work harder than you.”

The results are remarkable: Five Lakers championships, two Olympic gold medals, two times the NBA finals MVP, 18 years an NBA All-Star, six 60-point games and one 81-point game.

His single-mindedness could be off-putting in Bryant’s early career, but he grew into a thoughtful and generous adult.  His death last week revealed a reservoir of good will among athletes in other sports, fans on three continents, young athletes inspired by his drive and people touched by his charity work.   He also was proud of being a “girl dad” raising four daughters with his wife, Vanessa.  If there is a Kobe Bryant family photo in which he doesn’t have great big grin, well, I haven’t seen it.

Besides Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, seven other persons died in last week’s helicopter crash, each leaving friends and family to mourn.  It is only fair to name them here.

— Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna’s teammate, and her parents, Keri and John Altobelli; they are survived by Alyssa’s older sister, Alexis, and brother, JJ.

— Payton Chester, another teammate, and her mother, Sarah Chester; they are survived by Payton’s father, Chris, and her two 16-year-old brothers, Hayden and Riley

— Christina Mauser, a basketball coach at Gianna’s school, who is survived by her husband, Matt Mauser, and their children Penny, 11, Tom, 9, and Ivy, 3.

— Ara Zobayan, the helicopter pilot whose family information has not been revealed but who was respected in his field and for years was Bryant’s preferred pilot.

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