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Yesterday was a bad day. It’s still hard to sit down and type out the next sentence, which is: Yesterday, the world lost nine people in a helicopter crash, two of them being retired basketball icon Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, also an avid basketball player and fan. More details are breaking about the fatal accident, but it all boils down to those facts and the people who were affected in their wake. People like John Williams and Disney animator Glen Keane, who worked with Kobe on his Oscar-winning short Dear Basketball.
The animator and famous composer recently spoke to the NY Times in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death, reminiscing about 2017, when the trio worked on the Oscar-winning animated film Dear Basketball. For the production, Keane spent time working with Kobe to feel out the way he moved on the court to creation animation that flowed and moved. He said of their time together:
Kobe was the most passionate man who was led by his heart and his intellect. He was a great thinker with an insatiable hunger for learning: As soon as he stepped into animation, he eagerly began soaking up every aspect of it. Working with him was a dream and one of the high points of my career.
It was Kobe Bryant who actually approached Glen Keane to animate Dear Basketball. Bryant had seen Duet, an animated short directed by Keane that had been released in 2014. Bryant had written a poem about ending his career that later became Dear Basketball, an animated nod to the sport that he loved and that had defined his life and life’s ambition up to that point.
Later, John Williams came on board the project thanks to Kobe Bryant convincing him as well. His daughters were a big fan of “Hedwigs’ Theme” from Harry Potter, which Williams scored, and Bryant had reached out to the composer before ever asking him on board for Dear Basketball. In a statement, John Williams said about their friendship, built through that working relationship and that deep appreciation of music, that he had gotten a greater understanding of who Kobe was as a person.
During my friendship with Kobe, he was always seeking to define and understand inspiration even while modestly, and almost unknowably, he was an inspiration to countless millions. His enormous potential contribution to unity, understanding and social justice must now be mourned with him.
If you’ve never seen the short, you can watch the trailer below, which follows young Kobe and his early dreams, his career and finally his body breaking down before he ultimately retired from the game at the end of the 2016 season. The short was released in 2017 and is an expression of all of the emotions and change Kobe experienced in that time.
If you’ve ever seen the animated short, it is a therapeutic watch and told from Kobe Bryant’s point of view. It’s a very human movie to watch, with emotive hand-drawn lines and a story that anyone, even those of us who haven’t made sports our greatest ambition, can understand. Toward its end, Bryant admits it's time to let the sport go, noting,
I did everything for you, because that’s what you do when something makes you feel as alive as you’ve made me feel. You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream and I’ll always love you for it. But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer. This season is all I have left to give. My heart can take the pounding my mind can handle the grind, but my body knows it’s time to say goodbye. And that’s OK, I’m ready to let you go.