*As someone who has dealt with Kobe Bryant off and on for the past 18 years, there are a few things that I know about him.
One, unless you want to experience the Black Mamba’s venom, don’t ever ask him about the Lakers-Clippers rivalry—especially now that the perennial underdog Clippers have become L.A.’s top dogs.
Two, he’s not a “Hollywood” guy. You’ll rarely see him out at the hot new restaurant or club; nor is he the dude you’ll see making cameo appearances as himself on popular sitcoms.
“I can’t act a lick. I don’t. That’s not what I do.”
Lastly, like most superstar athletes, he’s never going to be on time for a press conference that has nothing to do with his day job. But he’ll win you over with a strategically-placed apologetic one-liner.
“I was looking for a new coach.”
Actually, when you’ve ascended to the iconic level that Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has you kind of set your watch accordingly because the anticipation of breathing the same air as the 16-time NBA All-Star outweighs the annoyance of sitting in a dimly-lit and frigid ball room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to witness the evolution of a man-child.
Professional basketball player Kobe Bryant speaks onstage at the “Kobe Bryant’s Muse” panel during the El Rey Network portion of the 2014 Summer Television Critics Association at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 18, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California
Bryant, who sat out most of two seasons with injuries, was in Beverly Hills on Friday afternoon to talk the nation’s television critics about his new Showtime documentary, “Kobe Bryant’s Muse.” Directed by Gotham Chopra, the film, which is still in production, chronicles Bryant’s personal and professional highs and lows with unfiltered and unprecedented access. Showtime will air the film in early November.
“There’s a level of honesty in this film,” Chopra said. “And we’ve never had a conversation where it’s been like, well, ‘you can’t ask me this.’ I mean, I’ve pretty much asked him everything.”
If that’s the case it is a very unusual move for the Lakers’ franchise player who—save for his involvement in some very public scandals—has been notoriously protective of his private life during his 18 seasons in Los Angeles. But when you’re in the twilight of an accomplished career at 35—or 150 in NBA years as Bryant joked—there’s a need to put your own spin on your legacy with some seemingly compelling and riveting fodder.
And there’s plenty of that for Chopra to play with.
There’s the feud the then petulant Bryant had with former Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal during the four seasons and three championships they won together at the turn of the century. Then there was that unpleasantness that erupted in 2003 when a hotel employee accused Bryant of raping her at a resort in Eagle, Colo. The case was later dropped when she refused to testify at the trial but it took several boxes of Tide, some tearful apologies, a $4 million baby I’m sorry ring and some carefully crafted Nike ads to extract the stain from his image.
There have also been publicized issues with his parents Joe “Jellybean” and Pam Bryant. They didn’t attend his 2001 wedding to Vanessa Laine because they reportedly were unhappy he was marrying so young. And last year, while he and Vanessa were piecing their marriage back together after she filed for divorce in 2011, things got even messier with his family. Mama insisted she had the right to auction off some of her only son’s memorabilia but baby boy and his lawyers felt differently. According to Kobe, however, this latest conflict has been “resolved.”
Can’t wait to see that footage.
Yet, considering that Bryant is the film’s executive producer, it will be interesting to see how all of these moments unfold in “Muse.” You have to wonder how forthcoming he’ll be since he’s been accompanying Chopra to the edit bay where he’ll have some control over the content. So, will the evolution really be televised or simply glossed over with some appropriately evasive responses to the harder questions?
“The overall vision of the story is to be able to follow the journey of the injury, the inner struggle, the inspiration that comes from that,” Bryant said. “How do you battle through that. And I think it’s important to be completely transparent about it.”
Kobe Bryant from the Showtime documentary “Kobe Bryant’s Muse”
Bryant also hopes that “Muse” will inspire kids to pursue their passions and help encourage them to not make some of the flagrant fouls he made as a player and playa.
“I felt like [Muse] was fun to do because it could help,” Bryant said. “Maybe it could help somebody in whatever area that they’re focused on. Maybe it won’t. I don’t know. I’ll just share my story about it, and we’ll just kind of go from there. So, that’s why I decided to do it. If you ask me if I’m going to be in like films and things like that, no, I’m OK.”
One of the things he’s not so OK with right now, however, is how he’ll deal with the afterlife. Going from revered to retired is daunting for any pro athlete but unlike some of his contemporaries Bryant is already contemplating his game plan. The NBA’s all-time fourth leading scorer is going to approach the end of his career as he did the beginning. He’ll be picking brains.
“It’s I think in times like this, you really have to lean on muses and mentors going forward,” he said. “Just as I did when I was a kid looking up to some incredible athletes and people to try to learn what made them great.
“It’s about having that next wave of things, the next challenge of things, which is scary as hell, but it’s fun at the same time. It is a little nerve-racking, I’ve got to say. But it’s fun.”
Miki Turner is an award-winning photojournalist, author and adjunct professor at the University of Southern California.