Kobe Bryant Reveals Rarely Seen Sense of Vulnerability in New Documentary

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterFebruary 25, 2015

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LOS ANGELES — For someone who loves movies as much as he does, and considering he wraps up his new Showtime documentary with the words that feeling like a failure is to him "almost worse than death," Kobe Bryant's movie of his life was destined to be worth watching.

Indeed, it is very good, with rich imagery wisely focusing more on Bryant's vulnerability and challenges than his obvious accomplishments.

Deep profiles only work when they show warts on even the prettiest people, and Bryant is willing to share his loneliest, darkest moments so the audience can better understand his maniacal drive toward those obvious accomplishments.

With Bryant involved in editing down to this final week before the premiere on Showtime at 9 p.m. ET/PT Saturday, Kobe Bryant's Muse opens with him divulging a dream he had after his Achilles tendon tear: He's on the court at Staples Center…but cannot jump.

Bleacher Report was granted an advance viewing of the film, which crystallizes why Bryant has always seen himself as an underdog, even though much of the public has interpreted his cocky preps-to-pros jump from a privileged upbringing as the exact opposite.

Bryant taps back into his feelings at 13, when his parents brought him back to America from Italy for good, and the man viewed as a global god these days was then just an insecure little boy.

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"Sitting at a lunch table, all by myself," Bryant says. "No friends."

The movie is told entirely from Bryant's point of view—him sitting in a black T-shirt and facing the camera in front of a gray backdrop, faintly lit. Clips from his past are interspersed to bring it all to life, but Bryant's ability to own a scene via merely his face and words is a unique power for someone whose legend was built on his body and actions.

Bryant and director Gotham Chopra bring the concept of the lunch table back later in the film, after slow-mo footage of Bryant holding up five fingers on the Staples Center scorer's table, confetti and fans blending into his ultimate triumph after his fifth NBA title in 2010.

LOS ANGELES - JUNE 17:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates after defeating the Boston Celtics in Game Seven of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 17, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakes won 83-79.  NOTE TO USER: User e
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"To be able to sit at the same lunch table as my muses, Michael [Jordan] and Magic [Johnson]…I want to sit down at the same lunch table and belong there," Bryant says. "And I'm very proud to be able to say I can do that."

Lakers fans will revel in the glory of 2009 and '10, but the more personal stuff is far more compelling. Maybe it's because I was there as a sportswriter step-by-step for the successes, but the inner workings of a person are always more interesting than what he achieves.

The theme of Bryant as an outsider is carried throughout the film—from Bryant not knowing the slang, fashion or even how to spell and being considered dyslexic at 13…to repeatedly driving around the UCLA campus in his first Lakers years to observe and wonder about college kids' fun…to being afraid he would lose his family and freedom after Colorado in 2004 and reflecting on how wife Vanessa told him: "During that time, I hated your guts. But it wasn't about you; it was about Natalia."

Natalia is the Bryants' first daughter. The film's starkest moment is Bryant reflecting on Vanessa's April 2005 miscarriage—before their other daughter, Gianna, was conceived later that year.

"We were expecting our second child during that time," Bryant says. "And there was so much stress. She actually miscarried. And it's something…I have a real hard time dealing with that 'cause I felt like it was my fault.… The reality is it happened because of me. That's the reality of it."

The bright spot of the long-ago footage (besides Chick Hearn telling Kobe: "You have beautiful teeth!") is Kobe and Vanessa's first meeting, captured on the set of a 1999 rap video. Kobe introduces himself to some dancers behind the scenes, and one by one they turn around to smile and say their names: Trinidad, Tomasina…

LOS ANGELES - JUNE 19:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers and fiancee Vanessa Lang celebrate winning  the NBA Championship after defeating the Indiana Pacers in Game Six of the 2000 NBA Finals on June 19, 2000 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Cali
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The third one in the pink dress turns around and says: "Vanessa. Hi." She smiles, shakes hands with Kobe and then turns back around. (Kobe didn't play it cool either, for the record. He got her number and "called her the very next day.")

Even the story of Kobe's whirlwind romance with Vanessa, 17 at the time when Kobe was 21, is framed in the sense of how he felt different from most.

He cites their initial shared love for Disney things and how she was immediately someone "I just see the world the same way with."

Bryant has long been interested in narrative. He tried his hand at publishing back in December 2001 with an essay for Newsweek about the Sept. 11 attack. And he has long been involved in the marketing stories surrounding his Nike products, which triggered his decision to make business his career after basketball.

This movie is, make no mistake, part of Bryant's transition into his that post-basketball life. He was executive producer, and the end credits make clear that Kobe Inc. is the film's author and creator.

Bryant uses his recovery from the 2013 Achilles tear as the vehicle to explain how he is willing to go through the tedium of rehab to get back and reclaim the game that has been "my best friend, psychiatrist, everything."

It is classic Kobe—focusing on the journey over the victory, taking adversity and being hell-bent on redeeming it.

From the first scene of tearing the Achilles and managing to toughen his mind as a lesson to his concerned daughters, to getting hurt again this season with the torn rotator cuff, the Achilles scar becomes his symbol of embracing life's struggles.

That's the success of the movie—delivering Bryant as not outright hero, but as wholly human.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.


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