Sunday, May 17, 2009


For those of you who have lives, in all likelihood, you missed Kobe Doin’ Work last night. So in taking one for the team – or not having a life – here are some quick thoughts on the Spike Lee project for ESPN.

Before anything else, you should know that if you believe that this is about the person that is Kobe Bryant, you’re not going to find much of that in the film. This is about the profession that defines Kobe Bryant as he explains his thought process from the last pre-game words in locker room to the moment he joins his wife and kids for the ride home after the game. It’s a documentary meant for the true basketball aficionado, although it’s the perfect opportunity for those looking to learn about the game no matter what level of interest.

What makes this film work is that this is one in a native tongue, sort of speak.

Since this movie delves into a critical contest for Western Conference supremacy (it was a blowout win of the then-champion San Antonio Spurs), Bryant is game-mode. As he speaks through each play and sequence, he’s talking in the game’s lingo. If you believed that basketball was as simple as putting a ball through the hoop or flopping to get the referee’s attention, you’ll find that there’s far more.

For example, when Bruce Bowen is on offense, he considers himself a roving defender; akin to a safety in the NFL (he references Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu). Yet, when Michael Finley subs in for Bowen, Bryant talks about the matchup change and discusses a switch to playing cornerback – in the case of the hardwood, he’s now man-to-man against Finley as the former Dallas Mavericks star is a greater offensive threat than Bowen.

As he’s watching the footage from when he’s on the bench during timeouts and when resting, he admits that he had no clue he talked so much. He's talking to his teammates about the plays that could have been, should have been and would have been. He's giving pointers to Jordan Farmar about setting up his own shot, telling Pau Gasol to set up for a play to get the Triangle offense going and imploring Lamar Odom to go back on the low block (near the rim) and get his post game going. He's giving reminders to Derek Fisher, the lone teammate he has that went through the wars during the Lakers' threepeat earlier this decade. He flips between English and Italian with The Machine! as he tries to get him going.

You have a sense that with his constant banter with his teammates that he may not fit the exact mold of the selfish player that everyone from Jay Mariotti to Bill Simmons to your cubicle neighbor believes he is. Maybe with this particular cast of characters, he's shedded some of the impulsive "I need the ball for us to win" characteristics he had in the pot-Shaquille O'Neal era. Yet, he's letting you, the viewer, decide that.

There were two discrepancies that depending on how you like your basketball, you might notice.

For starters, the film score seems a bit unnecessary. Considering that this was an actual game with Bryan adding his commentary over it, you may have been content with hearing the natural sounds of the game. The film provided its own music throughout much of the 90 minutes because you hear sneakers squeaking, players and referees chatting with and over each other, edited trash talk between opponents and whistles. It’s the rare glimpse into the intimate dimensions of the game and you didn’t need much else to get you immersed.

The other issue was another unnecessary sound; Spike Lee, himself. He did not interject much and for the most part, he did ask Bryant some insightful questions. They were inquisitive and smart questions that – to borrow some coach speak – were teaching points about the game, such as when Lee asked why more teams don’t run the famed Triangle offense.

Yet, as mentioned before the start of the movie, Lee reminds us that Bryant provided his voiceover after his 61-point brilliance against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Lee takes off his director hat and immediately puts on his crazed Knicks fan hat. Suddenly, the conversation veers into the game he just finished instead of staying the course. The reason could be that in the filmed game, the Lakers were coasting away from the Spurs and in Lee’s mind, there may have not been much more to talk about. This might work for some, but for others, it might have disrupted the flow.

Despite all of the analysis on highlight shows, pre- and post-game shows, you don’t ever hear from the players about what their craft when they are actually practicing it in front of our very eyes. We have to rely on interviews and speculation from the media on what had and had not happened on the court in order to gain an understanding of what really goes on in a basketball game. The unprecedented access Lee and his team was granted to make Kobe Doin’ Work succeeded in bringing us closer to the physical and mental preparation these players need to perform every other night.

If you’re a hoops head or at least hungry for some knowledge about the intricacies of the game, Kobe Doin’ Work is a treat as you get to see things from the mind of arguably the best player on the planet.
Personally, after watching this and seeing Tyson recently, I hope that we have more sports films like this, where we get to hear from the athletes themselves about their trades, not just from our own assumptions and opinions.

Note: If you’re asking yourself why Kobe Doin’ Work aired on Saturday night as opposed to prior to today’s Game 7 between his Lakers and the Houston Rockets, there are a plethora of reasons that can be assumed (and likely right). The first airing was commercial-free on ESPN from start to finish, with ads placed in the repeat airings on ESPN2. Because Saturday is almost a wasteland for television viewing, there wasn’t much potential ad revenues lost for the commercial-free airing on the Worldwide Leader’s end of things. However, there was little programming last night that could have competed with the film; it was even helped with a rain-delayed Rockies-Pirates game on MLB Network.

Say What?!?!: Maybe it’s just me and having differing musical preferences, but am I the only person who’s tired of seeing the Amazing ads for the NBA Playoffs? On this end, it has nothing to do with the visuals so much as it’s the audio. If going the Kanye West route was desired, I can imagine there’s a better track to use.

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