Sunday, February 9, 2020

Dear Basketball by Kobe Bryant. Is it spiritual?

It doesn't happen every day....or very often, for that matter, but one of the best feelings in the world as an educator is when your class breaks into applause. I love when my students get so excited or moved that they only reaction is to clap. 

Such is the case, on the day I told the seniors in Sports and Spirituality that we would be going on a field trip to the historic Castro Theater to see the screening of "Dear Basketball," an animated short film written and narrated by Kobe Bryant. 
Field trips merit their own excitement, but the pièce de résistance was the fun fact that Kobe would be at the theater and hosting the event. I heard "best class EVER" at least eight times that day.

I write about that memory now, because on this night two years ago, Kobe became the first former professional athlete to be nominated for and win an Academy Award. I wanted my students to see this animated short film because I think it is spiritual. 

As written on IMDB, "On November 29, 2015 Kobe Bryant penned a letter in the Players' Tribune announcing his retirement from basketball at the end of that season. This film is the visualization of that letter, narrated by Kobe, scored by John Williams and animated by Glen Keane."
At the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, Michael Strahan moderated a discussion between Bryant and Keane. As written by Taylor Weatherby,
During the chat, Bryant spoke about his newfound love for storytelling, which he believes is his purpose. "The best way to inspire is through story, it tends to sink in more," he said. And though he didn't mention whether he has more poems or short films in the works, he is plenty satisfied with what became of his initial post-NBA hobby. "I was happy I wrote something Glen and John believed in," Bryant said. "And that I could do something other than play basketball."
Kobe traveled to promote this film in person; he wanted to share with school kids this story and much more. He encouraged young people to find their passion, in athletics and far beyond. I believe he was committed to inspiring others. It is what he did first through basketball and I am not surprised he found others ways to do the same. I am grateful he didn't waste any time figuring that out!
The image from "The Player's Tribune."
About one week before the field trip was supposed to take place, I got a message from the San Francisco Film Society that due to unfortunate circumstances,  the event was cancelled. I did not want to tell my students, but I had to.... I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. How I wished we had gotten a chance to hear from Kobe in person and in that context.

While I did share the poem "Dear Basketball" with that class, we were unable to view the short film together. Therefore, I decided I would share his work with this year's class as a way to begin talking about his life and his death. I asked them to respond to the question I would ask any of my students. Is it spiritual? Why or Why Not? 

I hope you will watch the film. Take your time reading and even reflecting upon their beautiful responses. And do as my class once did—clap.

Thank you, Kobe for sharing your love for storytelling with us. I can't help but find the connection to spirituality. Amen.
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His video is very spiritual, given that he describes that he was not pulled towards
basketball, but rather basketball pulled him. He viewed it as this “intolerable pull” as it slowly became his passion. From when he was younger, he sees himself as the same person with the desire to run through the court, and shoot shots into the basketball hoop, “with five seconds left on the clock”. Basketball is how Kobe harnessed his energy and this fire that he was able to control with the sport. This energetic flame can be seen through the way he plays in the games for the Lakers. His spiritual calmness can be seen within the reflection of his years of his basketball career, and the acknowledgement that his desire for playing basketball will be forever untouched, but he knows that his body will not be able to handle the stress any longer, as he is getting older.

He also thanks the sport of basketball for pulling him into it, only for him to love it even stronger.

By a very insightful reflection of his time in basketball before retiring, I believe that his view on the sport of basketball and his spirituality are very strong together.

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“Dear Basketball” by Kobe Bryant is spiritual. Kobe says in the video that he gave

basketball his all because that is what someone does when something makes them feel so alive.

The very root of the word spirituality is the Latin word spiritus, meaning breath, and in turn, life.

Kobe dedicated much of his life to basketball because ultimately, it is what made him feel alive and gave him purpose. The video follows Kobe’s journey from being a little boy playing with balled up socks and a trash can to being an NBA star—only a drive of great magnitude could lead to such progress. Throughout the video, he says that he is “in love” with basketball; the entirety of this video is a love letter to basketball. His being in love dovetailed with the drive that he had is an example of eros. Kobe directed this eros into fueling his basketball success. Playing basketball fed his soul and was a large part of his spirituality; he seemed to have been able to maintain a healthy spirituality by continuing to do what he was passionate about: basketball. The two functions of the soul—to give energy and to hold together—seem very much like they come from basketball for Kobe.

Photo Credits
Players' Tribune
Movie Poster

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