Are there winners and losers, or is everyone a winner? 

It took me a long time to realize that the movie Dear Basketball is a great example of how ironically both of these confrontational and contradicting perspectives are true and are working toward the same goals, lessons, and intentions. 

At a glance, the film struck me as a simple autobiographical depiction of one (extraordinary) man’s life as a hardworking and obsessed athlete climbing to the peak of his career. In retrospect, I found the film itself to be one man’s way of expressing his experience as an athlete who fell in love with his life’s work. 


Dear Basketball.

In the winter of 2017 at the red carpet ceremony internationally known as the Academy Awards, history was made as Kobe Bryant became the first African-American as well as the first professional athlete to win an Oscar in the category of Best Animated Short Film.

That’s right. Kobe Bryant. Won an OSCAR! …For a 5-minute cartoon!

Inspired by a poem Kobe Bryant wrote in the form of a love letter to the sport, Dear Basketball first debuted on paper as an article, and was published in a November 2015 edition of The Players Tribune

The letter and film are an autobiographical romance between Bryant and basketball which inspired an obsession to become a legacy. It tells the tale of Kobe’s unrelenting drive from his youth to manifest his dream of playing basketball through the perspective of a man in love. 

Intended to be part of his retirement announcement, Kobe’s publication inevitably inspired a powerhouse duo of cinematic giants, who are also two other men who gave their hearts into their work, to come together and share Kobe’s message with the world.

With Kobe Bryant as narrator and Exc. Producer, Dear Basketball was animated and directed by Glen Keane. The American animator, Keane’s cinema credits include several of Disney’s hand-drawn classic films such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, and more.

Also onboard this history-making animation is the iconic film composer, John Willams. Responsible for iconic musical scores for Hollywood motion picture classics like Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, and Harry Potter. Willams joins this championship team very much like Ray Allen joined the 2008 Boston Celtics and put them over the top.

After my first screening of Dear Basketball, it was hard to walk away from the movie not thinking that the success of the film had less to do with the art that was actually produced, but rather by the team of creative public figures who made the short animation in the first place.

To turn $100 into $110 is work. To turn $100 million into $110 million is inevitable.
—Edgar Bronfman

I found it difficult to watch the production succeed because it forced me to recognize the competition within the arts. The irony in watching a competitive sports icon create an objectively creative piece of art, that in turn results in him winning another competition, was hard to ignore.

If you have an established and already widely understood social standing within any industry, it is probably much easier to convince an audience that the work you deliver is created with a high caliber of expertise and imaginative value. This is all to say that competition also exists within the arts—and in many major ways! The Oscars are an awards show after all.

A couple months after the screening, Dear Basketball won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film and the award was accepted by Glen Keane and Bryant at the 2018 Academy Awards.

Both men won their first academy award that night. Keane accepted the Oscar while touching on the message of the film once again presenting the idea that with true dedication, drive, and love, dreams that seem out of reach become attainable. Keane gratefully thanked the film’s supporters, his family, and finally Kobe for giving the production the written material and ideas necessary to inspire the creation of this film.

You asked for my hustle, I gave you my heart…
—Kobe Bryant, Dear Basketball

Over time, the film has transitioned in my mind into a creative work made in order to give thanks to a lifelong journey towards one’s dream. It is important that we understand how to experience disappointments while always continuing to believe in ourselves—to value their contributions to the world around them. 

I find myself thinking about the original artist of this animation being an all-star athlete, and iconic competitor, and I have come to believe that competition teaches us about the dangers in life, and that hard work and self-motivation are the best tools to cultivate when preparing to face these instances: disappointment, danger, struggle, and self-doubt. Sometimes things work out the way we hope, but more often, factors outside of our control lead our life’s journey down unexpected paths.

Competition and sportsmanship aim to inspire the mindset of a winner so that when given instances of difficulty and fear we have the confidence to meet those challenges head-on. 

On the other hand, the arts and creativity aim to teach us about diverse methods of communication, self-expression, and that no one’s attempts to share the contents of their imagination is wrong! That all of our dreams and aspirations have value and that disappointment cannot take that away from our determination, love, and hunger for our dreams.

Both concepts and industries aim to teach the world about perseverance and faith. They aim to offer us ideas and methods for managing victory and defeat. They aim to anchor us through times we want to give up and inspire us to relearn to love again.

Dear Basketball, an award-winning cinematic piece of art, originated by an unforgettable athlete and produced to inspire a way of chasing one’s passions with determination and joy. 

Life is hard, and it takes dedication to achieve your goals, but if you love what you do, the effort can lead you beyond your dreams.

Never give up, and follow your heart…

by Kobe Bryant and Glen Keane