Editor’s note: Kobe Bryant passed away at the age of 41 on January 26, 2020. This story was originally published in March 2018.
Kobe Bryant is the first professional athlete, and the first Black person to ever win an Oscar for Best Animated Short film. He took home the prize for his film, Dear Basketball. The film is based on a letter he wrote to The Players’ Tribune on November 29, 2015, announcing his retirement from basketball. “The hardest thing for an athlete to do is to start over,” Bryant said as he stared at his Oscar in shock backstage at the 90th annual Academy Awards. He described winning the award as a better feeling than achieving any of the five championships that he won during his career in the National Basketball Association.
Bryant has always known that he’s wanted to tell stories. However, moving from the court into film world was no easy task, especially considering the rhetoric that suggests athletes should simply shut up and dribble. “To be here right now gives me a sense of validation,” the former Laker explained.
Despite the naysayers, there were two women — Black women in the entertainment industry that were willing to provide the basketball champion with some much-needed guidance. “I had no idea what I was doing, so the first person I called was Oprah (Winfrey),” Bryant revealed. “I didn’t understand the business at all as you would imagine, but I loved writing. Oprah was gracious enough to spend an hour and some change with me on the phone explaining to me how she built Harpo from day one, and I cannot thank her enough. She’s a mentor now. Shonda Rhimes is absolutely amazing, and I was fortunate enough to go to Shondaland, sit in the writer’s room, and to be on set. When you have mentors like that, everything tends to work itself out.”
Dear Basketball is just the beginning for Bryant. He has five novels coming down the pipeline as well. “All of this put me out of my comfort zone,” he revealed. “My daughter gave me the best piece of advice because I’d never done something like this before. She said, ‘You’re always telling us to go after our dreams, so man up.’
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami