Excitement. Sweat. Strategy. And trash talk… in Spanish.
Welcome to a night in the life of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, courtesy his Number One Fan, Spike Lee. The director’s new DVD documentary, Kobe Doin’ Work, is a little glimpse at the mind of Bryant in his own words. The film focuses on an April 2008 game in which the Lakers played against the San Antonio Spurs, and largely plays like a typical basketball game would on TV. The difference, though, is that Lee used 22 cameras to follow Kobe in action, and the game’s sportscaster is Bryant himself, watching almost a year later and reflecting on his playing, on the court and off.
Apart from the polished editing, Kobe features only a handful of artistic flourishes to remind us that we’re not watching Sports Center on ESPN (the network released the movie). A few plays are slowed down and replayed for effect, a few moments are frozen in black and white and now and then an upbeat piano motif trickles in to funk things up. Several of the DVD extras also support the creative effort: In one segment, Lee discusses how he made the film, while some of his production crew discuss why they made the film.
Lee also appears to answer that latter question in Kobe’s introduction. Sitting alone on the Lakers’ logo on the parquet, he speaks directly to the camera and attempts to work his at-home crowd. Full of hyperbole, Lee lavishes praise on Bryant and does his best to build the hype for his own film, explaining that he and his crew got access to the Lakers’ “sacred locker room,” and calling Bryant “the greatest player in the world right now.” If Lee leaves any room for doubt, Kobe’s first few scenes feature ESPN experts who also serve to set up the drama, imparting reverence for Bryant and gushy excitement about the Spurs’ and Lakers’ battle-to-be.
The movie’s format is particularly suited for people who, unlike this reviewer, understand basketball. Yet, the dialogue makes it clear nonetheless that Bryant’s success is no accident. The 6”6 Pennsylvania native was born with mind-boggling physical assets, but it’s his mind and his passion that make him the player that he is. After explaining one particular play in the April face-off, he pauses. Then he adds: “It’s something of a chess game. You’ve got to think things through.” For connoisseurs, Kobe is like a guidebook from a master walking us through his “execution,” as he puts it, of each play, explaining why he did one thing and not another.
It’s tempting at times to change the channel from the movie’s game to something (anything) else, but Bryant’s understated self-awareness and obvious and cerebral passion for his work — set to a catchy, cinematic rhythm — make it more compelling than your average athlete homage. For those of us who may lack any comprehension of how team sports work, Kobe is still an education.