Look, man: say what you will about greatest basketball player of all time and benevolent tequila demon Michael Jordan, but God bless him for not deciding that the world should be subjected to the stray horseshit living in his head.
The Washington Post recently published a lengthy profile of bad-cover-version-MJ and person-who-settled-a-rape-lawsuit Kobe Bryant. It is stuffed to the gills with utter lunacy, somehow both the goofiest and most unsettling profile of an athlete I’ve ever read, all at the same time. You should read it, just because you don’t encounter objects this bizarre every day.
The basic thrust of the profile is this: Kobe Bryant, now retired from basketball, is moving on to storytelling. He isn’t limiting his mediums. He is doing this because he is very wealthy and famous and no one has ever not let him do some dumb thing he wanted to do, but also because he is a narrative fetishist. These sections of the profile are deeply stupid, especially the ones involving Kobe’s conception of a shared-universe world-building project he calls “Granity.” He has big dreams for this project—he’s making a podcast for children, producing short films, talking about… building a theme park, all kinds of crap. An excerpt:
Affixed to panels are renderings of maps and terms from “Granity,” Bryant’s imagined world that’s not unlike the Marvel Universe or George R.R. Martin’s Westeros. There are sketches and meticulously designed artifacts that seem to make sense only in Bryant’s mind: gods of emotions, stories that blend fantasy and sports, that eternal battle not between good and evil but between love and fear. He’s used to hearing that his concepts are, well, unusual.
“Unusual,” for those not familiar with the term outside of a describing-what-happened-on-Riverdale-last-night context, occasionally means “Bad.” It’s hard not to imagine that anyone not on his payroll tells him things like this. But, fortunately for Kobe, we learn that when he was 19, Michael Jackson invited him to his house and told him to never “Fall in line,” which really goes a long way to explain why he played basketball like a self-absorbed maniac for nearly 20 years, and followed that up with making insanely bad entertainment products.
Kobe, after taking so much from Michael Jackson, is always seeking out the approval/methods of his idols. In the span of the article, he cold calls John Williams, Hilary Swank and Oprah. He obsesses over George R.R. Martin, reveling in the ways Game of Thrones deals in characters who express moral duality. He has a torturous conversation with extremely-washed rapper Lil Wayne, where he asks him, “The Passion for rhyming comes from where?” We see the genius in the heat of creative ecstasy, as he… directs a recording session of his podcast for children, “The Punies”:
At one point, Bryant is following the fourth episode as Puny Pete discovers a cut on his face. “A scar? No!” Pete says. “What am I supposed to tell my mom?”
“Tell her what my mom tells me,” Lilly replies. “Scars tell stories.”
“Then I’m Netflix,” Gordon says.
The actors file in, and Bryant wonders if referring to Netflix might represent a copyright infringement. He needs a revision, and fast. He closes his eyes and drops his head.
“‘I’m Netflix’ — or Apple or Hulu, CBS or Facebook,” he mutters. “Well if scars tell stories . . .”
He’s thinking, and if the recording studio had a shot clock, it would be counting down.
“Then I’m Brothers Grimm,” he declares. “That’s public domain. And you have to say it with an affection for the majesty that is Brothers Grimm.”
They retreat to the studio, and Bryant leans forward as his rewrite approaches.
“Scars tell stories,” Lilly says.
Bryant closes his eyes, tilts his head back and, visibly pleased, mouths the words.
“Then I’m Brothers Grimm.”
For those who aren’t intimately familiar with copyright law, I can assure you: saying the name of a publicly-traded corporation as a metaphor in a work of art is definitely not a copyright violation. Bad fictional podcasts for children and bad lawyering, all in one storyteller. So few can claim to be renaissance men the way Kobe can.
Now, if this was all this article was, it would just be a stupid piece of garbage about an egomaniac wasting his money trying to make the world’s dumbest content. But, unfortunately, the author points out a fundamental fact about Kobe Bryant, one that is glaring and bright and noisy in the current cultural context: he was credibly accused of sexual assault, and plead out of a civil case around the accusation.
In sports, this hasn’t mattered much, which is some gross and shameful shit about sports that should change immediately. But Kobe is trying to move beyond sports and into entertainment, where it has mattered a lot in the last few years. Kobe could feasibly choose to never discuss it, let it sit there and keep plowing forward with his giant stack of money, hoping that, even if creative types might be unnerved by him, the general public will buy into his extremely stupid vision.
Kobe does not do this. Instead, he chooses to view his being-credibly-accused-of-rape in storytelling terms, as he has taken to doing with apparently everything.
Then one night at home, Bryant couldn’t sleep. He scrolled through movies around 2 a.m. and hit play on the Quentin Tarantino revenge film ‘Kill Bill: Vol. 2.’ He was hooked from the opening — a fantastical director telling a fantastical story — but a later scene affected Bryant profoundly: A character named Budd is removing cash from a suitcase when, beneath one of the stacks, a mysterious and deadly snake strikes him and he proceeds to suffer an excruciating death. “Budd,” Daryl Hannah’s character says, “I’d like to introduce my friend: the black mamba.”
Bryant says he was almost hypnotized.
“The length, the snake, the bite, the strike, the temperament,” he says, and it wasn’t lost on him that snakes can also shed their skin. “‘Let me look this s--- up.’ I looked it up — yeah, that’s me. That’s me!’
…when Bryant returned to the court, the wholesome young athlete was gone. In his place was a man who could no longer convincingly portray innocence, and Bryant says he felt free to reveal the darkness that had always lurked inside him.
Creating an alternate persona, he says now, was the only way he could mentally move beyond the events of Colorado.
The irony that Kobe took his new, darker, post-rape moniker from a movie about a woman who goes on a rampage after she is a victim of violence at the hands of a romantic partner does not seem to dawn on him, or anyone. Nike, the only company that sticks with him after the settlement, takes his suggestions whole hog, makes shoes with snake prints on them, does commercials where he fake-jumps over cars.
They really lean into Bryant, the son of a professional basketball player who spent his entire playing career doing pretty much everything he possibly could to make every situation he was in maximally comfortable for himself, rebranding himself as a “badass killer” or whatever. Kobe, now free of Shaq using possessions efficiently and also of basic manners you teach to children, leaned into this in every public phase of his life, acting like a dick all the time and gunning like a maniac:
But it moved the discussion past Colorado, and so did the way Bryant behaved. If Kobe once forced smiles, “The Black Mamba” scowled. He hurled profanities across the court, was fined in 2011 for calling an official a gay slur, told GQ in 2015 that he had little interest in being anyone’s friend. He cursed at Lakers staff, ridiculed teammates by name, effectively refused to pass the ball. In the top 10 list for most shots taken in an NBA game, six of the spots belong to Bryant, who didn’t just break the record of most missed shots in NBA history: He has over 1,000 more misses than second-place John Havlicek.
Because sports have an insanely depressing eagerness to celebrate masculinity, this works. Kobe re-establishes himself as a dude on top of the league and a salesman who corporations can safely invest in.
“I don’t know what would’ve happened had I not figured it out,” he says. “Because the whole process for me was trying to figure out how to cope with this. I wasn’t going to be passive and let this thing just swallow me up. You’ve got a responsibility: family, baby, organization, whole city, yourself — how do you figure out how to overcome this? Or just deal with it and not drown from this thing? And so it was this constant quest: to figure out how do you do that, how do you do that, how do you do that? So I was bound to figure something out because I was so obsessively concerned about it.”
He is proud of this reinvention. The article, and Kobe, reframe it as the first story he ever managed to tell, which is that of himself as an anti-hero—“some of Bryant’s favorites: Darth Vader, Severus Snape, Jaime Lannister... horrifying at times, charming at others…”—made flesh. (I also do not know why he thinks Darth Vader is charming.)
He is also proud that it worked, and it continues to work, as he drifts into another industry, one that is more inclined to scrutinize men for sins of the past. The piece describes a scene from the night he won an Oscar for best Animated Short as follows: Bryant and his entourage left the Dolby Theatre, statuette in hand, and retreated to Orange County. To him, the Academy Award represented validation — not just that he can produce meaningful work, but by winning at these Oscars, Colorado was behind him.
Kobe describes all this stuff he has come up with about himself as a “story,” a goddamn narrative about how he was calloused and freed from the world’s expectations by what happened in Colorado:
“During the Colorado situation, I said: ‘You know what? I’m just going to be me. I’m just going to be me.’ F--- it. If I don’t like a question from a reporter, I’m going to say it,” he says. “If they ask me a question about this thing, I’m just going to tell them the truth.”
His fist strikes the desk.
“Like me or don’t like me for me.”
This is nonsense. Kobe didn’t make stories about himself: he works with advertising and PR companies to weave lies while his victim is silenced by an NDA, fabricates stupid tall tales about jumping over cars and his relationship to snakes, as well as his own basketball prowess. The world of sports indulged him in his horseshit, and continues to do so. Hopefully Hollywood won’t make the same mistake.