Spike Lee couldn't have picked a better day to debut his original ESPN documentary, Kobe Doin' Work. Saturday night turned out to be the eve of Game 7 between Kobe's Los Angeles Lakers and the visiting Houston Rockets. While the movie's scheduling likely took place weeks in advance, you couldn't have written a better backdrop for the movie's first airing.
The film provides an up-close look at what Bryant thinks about and considers during an NBA game. Lee captured footage and audio from a game that the Lakers played against rival San Antonio Spurs late last season. Bryant offers narration and vivid explanation over video of the game, describing what was going through his mind during even the most minor moments of the game.
During the film, Bryant expresses a range of emotions from joy to pain to glory to frustration. Critics of the movie claim that Bryant was mostly pandering to the camera for the sake of his image. It's true that his narration can border on a false modesty on occasion; but the film's best scenes come from the unequivocal times that we witness Bryant's intensity translating into emotion on the court.
As Bryant speaks about the grittiness of veteran NBA players, you watch moments from the game where Bryant falls prey to veterans' savvy moves. After being whistled for a charging foul, Bryant is visibly irritated that he didn't hold back his momentum better. His narration here adds to what we can already see on his face: "You know that's what he was going to do," he narrates. "And then I blew it."
And therein is the appeal of this film. Bryant does not attempt to reinterpret things or to prefer narrating the clips that make him seem more heroic. Instead, he spends much of the movie describing his shortcomings and miscues. He speaks often about how preparation if the foundation of the game, but also how difficult it is to execute and defend against traps or moves you even expect. The times when Bryant misses a shot or turns the ball over are the most revealing moments in the film if only because you get to hear the star say "My bad."
Once you've accepted that Bryant's game is not flawless, then you're ready to digest the movie's larger messages. There's a scene where, late into the San Antonio game, Bryant calls for the ball at the top of the key. Kobe haters may argue that this is also another call for attention. And they'd be right. Only that play doesn't end with Bryant weaving through the defense himself. Rather, he winds up finding an open teammate who drains the shot. Bryant explains that since the Spurs were forced to focus more on him, they left a Laker with a better opportunity.
This movie is chock full of examples of Bryant creating chances for teammates. He has evidently warmed up to the leadership role on this team, a team that, even he admits, once lacked the right personnel to win a championship. Bryant obviously believes that his current teammates are capable of contributing and delivering. He spends an inordinate amount of time on the court high-fiving his teammates and suggesting ways they can find openings to score. These are lessons in teamwork and leadership that Bryant acknowledges he's learned in recent years.
But they're not new lessons by any means. They are the same, basic tenets of the game that we try to educate the youth with to orient their basketball styles and choices around selfless play. Yet, when Bryant, an elite player, discusses how these missing facets of his game were what was holding him back, some people are quick to dismiss his comments as insincere, self-promoting propaganda.
Even if Bryant's approach and intentions for this film aren't entirely sound, the message is one we should believe in. For all of those young kids growing up worshiping Bryant's talent and ability to score, let them listen to Bryant talk about how learning to trust his teammates was what propelled him to find more success and happiness on the court.
Just like Spike Lee lets Bryant's play exemplify his spoken word in the film, Bryant demonstrated yesterday how valuable that message of teamwork is for him. A day after the film aired, the Lakers routed the Rockets to advance to the Conference finals. Bryant scored 14 points, third most on the team, while playing just 33 minutes. He also led his team in assists.
Follow Danny Groner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DannyGroner