Remembering Kobe Bryant one year later: A look at the basketball icon's legacy in entertainment
Editor's note: This story was originally published Jan. 26, 2020, the day Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
Kobe Bryant was more than a basketball player – he was a larger than life star on and off the court and a media icon with his sights set on the future.
The basketball great's entertainment star was continuing its ascent when his life was cut short Jan. 26, 2020, as Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among the passengers who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. Seven others died in the crash.
Bryant was 41 years old.
Before his death, Bryant was making the transition from a basketball star to an entertainment mogul: He won an Oscar as a producer, wrote several books and launched a media company.
Kobe Bryant: Academy Award winner
Bryant's "Dear Basketball" won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film at the 2018 Academy Awards. The six-minute film is based on a poem Bryant wrote that was published in The Players Tribune in 2015, when he announced his retirement from the NBA.
"I don't know if it's possible. I mean, as basketball players we're really supposed to shut-up and dribble but I'm glad we do a little bit more than that," Bryant said as he accepted the Oscar in March 2018.
"Thank you, Academy, for this amazing honor. Thank you, John Williams, for such a wonderful piece of music. Thank you, Verizon, for believing in the film. Thank you, Molly Carter, without you we wouldn't be here. And to my wife Vanessa, our daughters Natalia, Gianna, and Bianka. Ti amo con tutto il mio cuore. You are my inspiration. Thank you so much, guys, thank you."
Bryant's Oscar win highlighted his desire to look toward a future past basketball.
“It’s not something that was expected," Bryant told USA TODAY in an interview published just days before his death. "As a kid, you kind of have the goal of winning championships and all these sorts of things. Being in the industry that I'm in now? It wasn't something that was thought of me winning an Oscar."
Bryant also helped honor composer John Williams at the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 2016 at Hollywood's Dolby Theater.
“In 2009, I asked him to meet me,” Bryant said, according to Billboard. "I needed to understand how he created timeless music… his complex compositions told simple stories that captured the magic in all of us. John’s music achieved a level of perfection that I wanted to replicate on the basketball court. If I could understand how John did it, maybe, just maybe I could do it too. John was a catalyst for me to search and learn and be inspired."
Life after basketball:Kobe Bryant's transition to Oscar, Emmy winner and AAU coach
'Dear Basketball':Kobe Bryant wins Oscar for animated short film
Kobe Bryant: Author
Bryant also launched a second career as an author.
His first book was a basketball memoir called “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,” which published in November 2018 with an introduction by Phil Jackson, the former coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. The book entered the USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list at No. 8 and has ranked in the top 150 for eight weeks.
Then in collaboration with author Wesley King, Bryant started a Young Adult book series, called “The Wizenard Series.” The first volume, “Training Camp” published in March 2019 and was ranked No. 56 on USA TODAY’s best-selling books list in its first week. People called the series “an intersection of Harry Potter-esque fantasy and traditional sports.”
The second volume of the series, “Season One” is set to be released March 31. The publisher’s description calls it “a story of strain and sacrifice, supernatural breakthroughs, and supreme dedication to the game.”
More than two decades ago, Bryant took creative writing classes at Lower Merion High School from Jeanne Mastriano. She considered Bryant a “charismatic storyteller” when the class spoke to preschoolers or wrote short stories.
“I was hoping he would coach. I was hoping I could watch him with the Lakers,” Mastriano told USA TODAY's Mark Medina. “But it makes a lot of sense he would take a bold leap like this. It’s not easy, which is going to get him salivating.”
“You got to do what you love to do,” Bryant said. “I love telling stories. I love inspiring kids or providing them with tools that are going to help them.”
Kobe Bryant: Producer
Bryant created Granity Studios, a multimedia company that creates content for young adults, and that has produced an ESPN+ series that analyzes professional athletes’ performances (“Detail”) as well as a No. 1-ranked kids and family podcast that teaches life lessons through melodies and sports (“The Punies”).
ESPN recently renewed “Detail” for three more seasons, which will feature 52 episodes per year and undisclosed guest appearances. “The Punies” podcast will launch its third season in August, which will feature 10 episodes plus a Christmas special. In 2020, the podcast will be produced as an animated television series.
“Our challenge now is taking books and making them into films, feature films and in series, some of which will be animated and some of which will be live action,” Bryant said in an interview with USA TODAY.
“So it's figuring out how to do that, while understanding that owning the intellectual property is absolutely essential. It's fun to figure out the journey, but it’s also extremely frustrating. Things don't move as fast as you want them to. But that's OK.”
In an interview with People, published online just two days before his death, Bryant said he launched Granity Studios “as a way of teaching valuable life lessons to the next generation, with whatever they hope to do. The goal is to encourage children to develop their own inner magic and believe they can achieve the impossible and do so in a fun way.”
He went on to say: “Storytelling has always been an interest of mine, so the transition was an exciting one. I’m being challenged in a completely new way and have really loved the opportunity to exercise my creative muscles.”
“I enjoy doing it,” Bryant told Forbes about the studio work. “I was fortunate to retire from the game and find something I love to do and that is the art of storytelling. There is nothing like having a blank page and outlining a story, a world, a character. What is it going to look like, how does that come together? There is nothing more fun to me than doing this.”
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Contributing: Bryan Alexander, Scott Gleeson, Mark Medina, Tom Schad, Jeff Zillgitt