Less than a year and a half removed from retirement and playing in his last basketball game, five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant is again leading a team and building a winner—only this time, instead of on the hardwood, it’s as a storyteller on the screen.
The Los Angeles Lakers icon has produced the animated short Dear Basketball, a five-minute-and-22-second-long film that is based on his painfully honest poem that doubled as his official retirement from the sport in 2015. According to Hollywood critics, it appears that the film is building considerable buzz as a formidable contender for the Academy Awards.
“To sit here right now, to even hear you say that the film is even being considered for an Oscar nom, that’s crazy,” Bryant said at the National Retail Federation’s Shop.org conference on Wednesday in Los Angeles. “I’m winning championships. That’s what I dream of. That’s beyond any realm of any dream whatsoever.”
Bryant recruited two other industry stalwarts—veteran Disney animator Glen Keane and composer John Williams—to his Newport Beach-based, animation-devoted Granity Studios to make the piece, which he narrates. “Granity” is a word Bryant created from the combination of the phrase “greater than infinity.” The studio is developing a multitude of stories outlined by the Hall of Fame-bound player for a variety of media.
The short, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and was performed live by Bryant and Williams at the Hollywood Bowl earlier this month, is just one part of Bryant’s newfound career calling. Storytelling is a strong part of the second act of his career, which incorporates being the CEO of Kobe Inc. and a general partner of Bryant Stibel—a $100 million investment fund that includes sports media website The Players Tribune and video game designer Scopely, among other start-ups.
“I just love what I do with the stories we are trying to build and create,” Bryant said. “That’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps me up at night. That’s what wakes me up in the morning. How do you inspire a person to inspire a person that inspires another person that creates something that’s truly timeless?”
Aside from 4 a.m. workouts, Bryant’s workload these days is devoid of basketball and strictly revolves around his businesses and slate of stories—including endless editing for the eight novels he’s concurrently working on.
Bryant went on to talk about a variety of topics, including swimming with sharks while working with Nike on campaigns as well as building a brand. Below are the rest of the highlights, as told by Bryant himself.
— Manouk Akopyan (@Manouk_Akopyan) September 28, 2017
“I love stories. I love everything about it. I love framing it. I love plotting it and writing compelling characters. I love stories about hard work and dedication. Beyond that, I love the reaction from children once they read the stories. The a-ha moment, because it’s different for every child and how they interpret the meanings.”
On reinventing himself:
“It’s really, really hard to break away from what was, especially when you loved it. But you’re not fully breaking away from it. You’re taking lessons that were learned and carrying it forward. If you look at it from that perspective, it makes it a lot easier to discard what was and then focus on what’s to come. That’s what I’ve tried to do. Just go. You don’t have all the answers, but you’ll figure it out as you go.”
On learning new leadership skills as an entrepreneur:
“It’s a little different. In sports, you’re constantly driving people all the time. It’s an immediate thing. Business is a slower process. We have to figure out ways to keep the flame and curiosity burning on a consistent basis for longer stretches of time for projects like films and novels.”
On his favorite book, and one story he would recommend reading to others:
“We’re a Harry Potter household. That’s our favorite. We completely geek out on it. There are divisions within the house where we are in characters like Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff . . . You have to read the Game of Thrones books. The show is amazing, but the books are even better. It’s on another level. I mean—insane.”
On what he’s learned most from investors:
“Patience. Paying attention to the details. That’s always the key. Things just don’t happen by accident. You have to look at the source of things and understand why they occur . . . Investing can be really complex. You sit in a room and hear all of these complex ideas—it can give you a headache . . . I heard the best description for being an entrepreneur is like you’re jumping off of a building and you’re trying to build a plane while you’re on your way down.”
On one technology that he is most excited about:
“The storytelling possibilities and what you can do with AR is pretty interesting. The experiences that you can create, and try to actually build a story centered around the now is exciting and I want to see where it goes.”
On building his brand on social media, and digitally:
“I was always reluctant to get on social media because I figured I’d probably get in trouble. I’m a natural smart ass. I think the most important thing is to be who you are, and understand that who you are can impact others. If you can find the common thread with who you naturally are and find that common thread with a greater message as a whole, then it becomes easier for people to understand who you are, and relate to you.”
On the basketball players that inspired him:
“As a kid I had so many of them, and often for different reasons because they did so many things. Michael Jordan for his competitive drive and spirit. Magic Johnson for his vision and ability to bring other guys along in a seamless manner. Larry Bird because he was just so stone cold and nasty.”
Kobe Bryant on cage diving with great white sharks with Nike designer Evan Avar. pic.twitter.com/NiliGzyHri
— Manouk Akopyan (@Manouk_Akopyan) September 28, 2017
On what he learned collaborating with Nike for marketing and advertising campaigns throughout his career:
“When I first arrived at Nike, I felt like Harry Potter when he first arrived at Hogwarts. I was surrounded by sports geeks and engineers that cared nothing more than about every inch and every detail about the products. I was right at home. The reason why I cared so much [about my shoes] is because that was a direct correlation to how I played. It helped me as a player, therefore I must take care of every single thing. That’s why I approached it with that much care. I actually swam with great white sharks with Nike shoe designer Eric Avar when we were designing the shoe. We do all kinds of weird stuff. Once I retired from the game, and started making decisions that were somewhat uncomfortable for me, I called Nike president and CEO Mark Parker for advice and he walked me through his process. I looked at his temperament from the leadership position and not trying to lead with what you’re doing, but doing the best you can to serve. The most important thing about leadership is to serve—don’t lead. ‘How can you help others reach their full potential?’”
On how to be successful:
“Just get better a little bit every day, that’s all. There’s no secret formula, or secret sauce. At the end of the day, look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘did I get better today?’”