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The Truth About Kobe Bryant's Oscar Win

Kobe Bryant was more than just a sports icon — he was also an Academy Award-winning storyteller.

The former basketball superstar who remained loyal to the Los Angeles Lakers for the entirety of his two-decade-long career, Bryant died at the age of 41 on Sunday, January 26, 2020. He and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, along with seven other as-of-yet-unidentified individuals, lost their lives in a helicopter crash that morning after the aircraft, which Bryant personally owned and which was reportedly en route to a basketball game, crashed in a mountainous area in Calabasas, California. 

In the wake of Bryant's tragic death, as well as the devastating passing of his daughter and the rest of those involved in the deadly incident, tributes have begun pouring out. Countless fans around the world are remembering Bryant's legacy — and many are honoring the man just as much for his skills as a small forward as they are for his talents off the court. Specifically, fans are looking back at the day Bryant won an Oscar for the animated short film "Dear Basketball."

Here's the truth behind the late legend's big Oscar win.

Kobe Bryant's Dear Basketball was based on a poem he wrote

What the world knows today as "Dear Basketball" the animated short film started out as nothing more than words on a page – a poem Bryant wrote to coincide with the announcement of his retirement from the NBA. Published on November 29, 2015, the poem details Bryant's personal connection to basketball, how he "fell in love with" the game at six years old, and the ways in which basketball changed his heart, mind, and body. 

"Dear Basketball" reads in part, "I ran up and down every court / After every loose ball for you. / You asked for my hustle / I gave you my heart / Because it came with so much more." It continues, "I played through the sweat and hurt / Not because challenge called me / But because YOU called me. / I did everything for YOU / Because that's what you do / When someone makes you feel as / Alive as you've made me feel. You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream / And I'll always love you for it."

In the latter stanzas of the poem, Bryant revealed that he knew he couldn't love basketball "obsessively for much longer," and that the 2015-2016 NBA season would be his last.

"My heart can take the pounding / My mind can handle the grind / But my body knows it's time to say goodbye. / And that's OK," Bryant wrote. "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."

Kobe Bryant collaborated with two film industry legends for Dear Basketball

To bring his poem to life, it was only fitting that Bryant team up with icons of their craft: Glen Keane, a prolific animator and character designer who's worked on films like Tarzan, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Treasure PlanetTangled, and more ; and John Williams, the legendary composer best known for scoring films in the Star Wars franchise. Receiving a writing credit for the short film, Bryant provided the narration for "Dear Basketball," which Keane animated into a six-minute visualization of the original poem, while Williams wrote the music that swells around the stanzas and makes each emotional beat hit that much harder.

"Dear Basketball" premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 23, 2017, and subsequently won the Best Traditional Animation and Special Jury Awards at the 2017 World Animation Celebration International Film Festival. In December 2017, it was reported that "Dear Basketball" would be released online through Verizon's go90 platform. 

The very next month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that "Dear Basketball" had been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film — going up against Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer's "Revolting Rhymes"; Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon's "Garden Party"; Dave Mullins and Dana Murray's "Lou"; and Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata's "Negative Space."

In response to news of his and Keane's nomination, Bryant tweeted, "What?? This is beyond the realm of imagination. It means so much that the @TheAcademy deemed #DearBasketball worthy of contention. Thanks to the genius of @GlenKeanePrd & John Williams for taking my poem to this level. It's an honor to be on this team."

Kobe Bryant's Oscars acceptance speech for Dear Basketball

As it turned out, Bryant wouldn't soon be leaving the "realm of imagination." When the 2018 Oscars ceremony rolled around, airing on March 4 of that year, Bryant and Keane wound up beating the competition and taking home the coveted prize. The Best Animated Short Film win for "Dear Basketball" was significant for both men in different ways: it marked the first time an NBA player won an Oscar in that category, and signified the first-ever Academy Award nomination and win for Keane. 

Taking the stage with Keane to accept the award — presented by Star Wars franchise actors Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac, and Kelly Marie Tran – Bryant offered hilarious and heartfelt words.

"As basketball players, we're really supposed to shut up and dribble, but I'm glad we did a little more than that," he said with a smile, causing the ceremony attendees to let out a collective laugh. (This was in reference to conservative political commentator Laura Ingraham once telling LeBron James to "shut up and dribble" instead of criticizing politicians like President Donald Trump.) Bryant continued, "Thank you, Academy, for this amazing honor. Thank you, John Williams, for such a wonderful piece of music. Thank you, Verizon, for believing in the film. Thank you, [executive producer] Molly Carter — without you, we wouldn't be here."

He concluded by telling his family that he loved them with all his heart, speaking briefly in Italian, which he learned as a child while living overseas: "And to my wife Vanessa [and] our daughters Natalia, Gianna, Bianka – ti amo con tutto il mio cuore. You are my inspiration."

Kobe Bryant didn't predict an Oscar win in his post-retirement life

It may have been surprising to some to see Bryant win an Oscar at the 90th annual ceremony, and they wouldn't be alone in their shock. In an interview with USA Today shortly before his death in January 2020, Bryant admitted that he never thought taking home an Academy Award was a dream he could have, considering the vast majority of his life revolved around basketball. He also revealed that many people cast doubt on him as he entered a new phase of his life following his retirement.

"It's not something that was expected. As a kid, you kind of have the goal of winning championships and all these sorts of things. Being in the industry that I'm in now? It wasn't something that was thought of me winning an Oscar," Bryant said. "'I don't know what you want to do when you retire. You're going to go through a state of depression. You're going to have an identity crisis.' These are all things that were said to me because people were genuinely concerned."

In the end, those concerned about Bryant not achieving success after retirement couldn't have been more wrong. Not only did Bryant nab an Oscar just a few years after turning in his #24 Lakers jersey, but he also partnered with author Wesley King to create a fantasy book collection entitled The Wizenard Series, the first installment of which was published in March 2019.

Kobe Bryant's death was both unexpected and untimely, and in looking back on the life that was recently lost, the world can now remember that Bryant was a star while shooting hoops and shooting films.