Kobe Bryant on his transition from basketball star to Oscar-winning filmmaker
The NBA star reveals all about his new show Detail and his championship approach to the media world
When superstar basketball player Kobe Bryant retired his jersey in 2016, fans and critics alike expected he would somehow continue to make waves in the sporting world. But no one could have guessed how the driven 39-year-old would take his love of the game to the Oscars. Bryant penned and produced Dear Basketball, which earned him an Academy Award last month and propelled him to media acclaim in a whole new field.
Now, Bryant is set to hit our television screens with new series Detail, an NBA basketball analysis series written by and starring the former Lakers great. The 15-episiode series offers a unique insight into the on-court action when the NBA Playoffs start on 14 April up to the finals, giving fans the kind of insight into the matches that players themselves study to improve. It will, he hopes, inspire a new generation of basketball players and fans, and no doubt prove the vehicle that propels this NBA star of 22 years into an all-star player in the media world.
You've taken a different route than other retired players, do you have an end goal in mind?
For Detail in particular, I felt like it's important for the next generation [of players] to learn how to watch film, how to study the game. I felt like if this show was around when I was 10 years old, 11 years old, I would have gained so much insight, so much value from it, that by the time I'm 22, 25, my knowledge of the game would be at a much, much higher level than my predecessors. I feel like it's part of my responsibility to give back to the next generation, try to share and teach some of the things I have learned from some of the great players, great mentors, greats coaches that I've had.
You hear a lot about a team like the Cavaliers, LeBron James flipping a switch when the playoffs come. In your experience, how do you prepare for a competition like that?
'Flipping the switch' is just another term for having one team that you're focusing on, so you can really zero in on that team. That's all that is. You're still playing just as hard, you're doing all the things, but playoffs mean if you have one team to focus on, that means you can study all your regular season matchups against them, you can learn all the information you need to learn to prepare yourself for this playoff series. That's flipping the switch.
I did a piece last year about the 'two kings' system that the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing with – LeBron and Kyrie – and contrast that with Golden State's democracy. If you watch Cleveland play now, they're starting to play with a more democratic system… while the other players, whether it's Jordan Clarkson or Kevin Love are running corner split games, playing a rip action, doing stuff on the weak side where they're moving off the ball. That makes them infinitely more dangerous. >>
What inspires you to continue to reinvent yourself and stay on top of everything you decide to do?
I don't really look at it so much as reinvention, as my career as a basketball player was over. I loved storytelling, so here I am. I follow my passion, things that I love to do like writing and storytelling, I enjoy that. I don't find myself having to remind myself to work hard and push myself to stay on top of things because I just love doing it. I can't wait to get to the studio every day, work with the team, write, create, concept, develop. I just enjoy doing that.
You were so competitive as a player. Does that competitiveness still come out in you? Is it hard for you to watch basketball now?
No, I don't have a hard time watching it at all. This is where me and Michael [Jordan] differ a lot. Where I was going through the process of retirement, I think people were kind of assuming Michael and I behave the same way from a competitive standpoint. We're both ridiculously competitive, but it's different to a point, right? I have this other thing that is calling me that I enjoy doing. I'm completely focused on that. I can watch a game, feel nothing at all. There's no angst, there's no, 'Man, I want to get back out there'.
Now when I watch the game, I watch it from the perspective of what's happening, things that my mind can process from years and years of studying film. But now I'm just taking that information and applying it in artful way to the show Detail. Thank God I haven't struggled watching the playoffs. I'd be going crazy. So fortunately enough for me, I've really been able to move on from the game.
Do you have any interest in being a traditional analyst, like Shaq or Barkley?
No, zero. I love what I'm doing now. Building a studio is no small task – it's all encompassing. I just don't have the time to sit at a studio and do that. If that was my passion, to be able to sit at a studio desk, do that day in, day out, I would certainly do it. But my passion is writing, creating, putting beautiful stories together, weaving them in the form of a narrative. That's what you'll see in Detail. It's hard to explain until you see it. Yes, it's a basketball analysis show, but the way it's woven together, you'll actually see the natural narratives that are there in a playoff series. We just kind of bring those to the light in terms of how it actually affects the outcome of plays and a series.
Your basketball career speaks for itself, but now you're morphing into this media world. Did winning an Oscar for Dear Basketball give you credibility in that industry?
Yeah, for sure. It's been an amazing journey. I think the important thing for me is to establish myself within this industry as a serious creator. I mean, I can write. I can edit. I can produce. I can do those things at a serious level. It's not something that's kind of a one-time thing. It's just something that we do every single day. Winning an Academy Award certainly helps with that. It wasn't something that I just attached my name to as an executive producer, which most people tend to do. This is something I gave birth to. This is something I actually wrote. It feels good to be able to have that recognition in that way. >>
Where do you keep your Oscar?
I have it in my house. It's sitting right next to the Emmy Award we've won, as well. I look at them every morning before I go to work.
When you're in that environment are you saying, 'Wow, I'm sitting here with Spielberg' or are they going, 'Wow, I'm sitting with Kobe?'
Are you shitting me? I'm sitting with [Stephen] Spielberg and [Ron] Howard, sitting at Pixar talking with Pete Docter and Brad Bird. They're telling me how wonderful basketball is, asking how I wrote this thing. I know they don't play around. If they don't like something, they are cut and dry, they'll tell you to your face the film was a piece of shit, and they'll tell you why, how you can do it better. For them to sit there saying, we love this film, it was excellent, that was the greatest thing ever. It's priceless.
You put a lot of value in advice from veteran players, have you sought similar advice from key players in the film industry – Spielberg, Howard, your friend Jack Nicholson?
Yeah, I have. I've been really fortunate from a story perspective, dealing with the likes of working with Glen Keane and John Williams. Aside from that, J.J. Abrams, George R.R. Martin, Oprah Winfrey, Shonda Rhimes, Steven Spielberg. Ron Howard and I had dinner about a week ago. We spent about an hour and a half talking about film and process, all this other stuff. Absolutely, man. I've been a sponge my whole career. It's certainly not going to stop now.
The 2018 NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday 14 April. You can follow all the action live on BT Sport or via NBA LEAGUE PASS