We already knew the Oscars were going to have a sociopolitical layer, and host Jimmy Kimmel wasted little time Sunday bringing up gender inequality, the #MeToo movement and disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein. As it turned out, the recent “shut up and dribble” episode between a pair of NBA stars and a Fox News host was also referenced during the Academy Awards — by Kobe Bryant, as the former Lakers great was making his acceptance remarks.
Bryant, along with animator Glen Keane, had just won the Oscar for best animated short film for “Dear Basketball,” the cinematic version of a love letter he wrote to the game. When Keane said that the honor showed that “the impossible is possible,” Bryant stepped to the microphone.
“Well, I don’t know if it’s possible — as basketball players, we’re really supposed to just shut up and dribble,” Bryant said to laughter, “but I’m glad we do a little bit more than that.”
Fox News’ Laura Ingraham had lobbed the “shut up and dribble” line at LeBron James and Kevin Durant last month, after the two players were shown in a video criticizing President Donald Trump. Ingraham subsequently responded to the negative reception for her comments, issuing a statement saying that there was “no racial intent” in her remarks while adding, “If pro athletes and entertainers want to freelance as political pundits, then they should not be surprised when they’re called out for insulting politicians.”
“We will definitely not shut up and dribble,” James said shortly thereafter. “I will definitely not do that. I mean too much to society, I mean too much to the youth, I mean too much to so many kids that feel like they don’t have a way out, and they need someone to help lead them out of the situation they’re in.”
“Ignorance is something I try to ignore,” Durant said. “That was definitely an ignorant comment. I do play basketball, but I am a civilian and I am a citizen of the United States, so my voice is just as loud as hers, I think — or even louder. … I kind of feel sorry for her, because she’s not looking through the lens of being free and what that’s about.”
On this week’s episode of “Saturday Night Live,” TNT analyst and former NBA star Charles Barkley had a message for James while delivering the show’s opening monologue: “Keep on dribbling and don’t ever shut up.”
“A lot of times athletes are worried that speaking out will hurt their career. Here’s something that contradicts all of that: Me. I’ve been saying whatever the hell I want for 30 years and I’m doing great.”
Bryant is also doing great, to judge from his quick success in Hollywood. Less than two years after retiring from the NBA, his transition game proved as strong as ever, as he not only landed an Academy Award nomination but wound up with one of the coveted trophies, which he can add to a collection of honors that includes five NBA titles and a league MVP award.
“I’ve always been told that as basketball players the expectation is that you play. This is all you know. This is all you do. Don’t think about handling finances. Don’t think about going into business. Don’t think that you want to be a writer — that’s cute,” Bryant told the Undefeated’s Kelley L. Carter before the Oscars got underway. “I got that a lot. What do you want to do when you retire? ‘Well, I want to be a storyteller.’ That’s cute. This is … a form of validation for people to look and say, ‘OK, he really can do something other than dribble and shoot.’ “
Bryant, the film’s executive producer, picked an ideal teammate in Disney’s Keane, the animator who is behind, among other projects, “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid.”
“The most captivating thing in the world for me is the human body in motion, doing what seems to be physically impossible things,” Keane told Indiewire. “I’m really drawn to that as an animator. But this chance to actually be a basketball player was really unique. I knew what it was like being a mermaid, swimming free through the water and the weightless feeling. But this was different.”
What’s next for Bryant, who calls “the art of creating … like putting together a puzzle,” remains in the world he knows best, sports. His Granity Studios and ESPN have partnered on a 15-episode show called “Detail” that will analyze basketball and be written, produced and hosted by Bryant. As he told Carter, all his plans “center around sports.”
“How do we take sports and tell beautiful tales, beautiful stories that connect to human nature? If you look at sports as a whole, it connects people worldwide, on a global scale,” Bryant told Carter. “Much like music does. But what separates music from sports is that sports is something that unites people, something people do together.”
The story he tells in “Dear Basketball” is about the end of something and the beginning of something else.
“When I sat down to write, I could either say what I was feeling to the game, or I could visually communicate,” he told the New York Daily News last April. “If I’m speaking to someone, I think it’s always better to speak through stories, to speak through visual images.
“It’s an arc of understanding that things come to an end. When things come to an end, we can either embrace that change and welcome the change, or we can be resistant to that change. I found myself being at peace with this transition, and with the finality, with my career coming to an end.”
The message that he sent in that letter to the game, published on the Players’ Tribune, is one that is as much about the future as the past.
“I’m ready to let you go. I want you to know now So we both can savor every moment we have left together. The good and the bad. We have given each other All that we have.
“And we both know, no matter what I do next I’ll always be that kid With the rolled up socks Garbage can in the corner :05 seconds on the clock Ball in my hands. 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1
“Love you always, Kobe”
After walking offstage with his Oscar, Bryant told reporters, “I feel better than winning the championship.” He credited his 11-year-old daughter with making him produce the movie, saying she told him, “Well dad, you always tell us to go after your dreams, so, man up.”
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