Kobe Bryant Recalls Meeting Beyonce, Cites Michael Jackson as His Biggest Inspiration at Tribeca Film Festival

Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival
Kobe Bryant attends Tribeca Talks: Kobe Bryant with Glen Keane - 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at BMCC Tribeca PAC on April 23, 2017 in New York City. 

When Kobe Bryant retired from the NBA almost exactly a year ago, he did something completely unexpected prior to his bittersweet exit: wrote a poem. Titled “Dear Basketball,” Bryant eloquently shared his passion for the game by almost personifying basketball as the love of his life — and now that love letter is a short film.

Illustrated by legendary Disney animator Glen Keane and scored by John Williams, “Dear Basketball” presents Bryant’s poem in a visual that’s as heartwarming (and even tear-jearking) as the ode to the sport itself. The entire short has a sketched look — mainly black-and-white with only Bryant’s Laker purple and gold as accent colors — backed by a dynamic orchestral number that fits the prophetic tone of the superstar’s piece seamlessly.  

Bryant premiered “Dear Basketball” Sunday afternoon (April 23) at Tribeca Film Festival, also taking part in a conversation with Keane and moderator Michael Strahan which revealed much more than just Bryant’s love for basketball and new found love for storytelling. One of the most surprising parts? Who he revealed as his biggest inspiration.

“Michael Jackson,” he said in response to an audience question. “It’s the craziest story. I was working out at Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach and my phone rings, and it’s Michael Jackson. I was like 'What? Why?' It was this moment in time where I was really focused on my game, and I was getting a lot of flack for being too focused, being too serious. He was a big basketball fan, so he called just to tell me to stay on the right track, keep focused. I said, 'Okay, well how did you do it?' And he just went into his whole process of how he studied the greats, how he studied every note in all the Beatles' classics to try to figure out if there's a connection between that piece of music and Mozart's piece of music. He said 'You have to study the greats, learn everything about them.' He showed me all kinds of James Brown, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly -- he showed me 'This is where I learned this, this is where I learned that.' I thought I was working hard until I met him, and he became my mentor. I've had a lot of muses in my life, a lot of inspirations, but he is the chief."

Another unlikely mentorship Bryant mentioned involved Beyonce. In this case, though, the roles were reversed -- despite the fact that Bryant didn't even have any idea he served as inspiration for Queen B. "I took my girls to see Beyonce in concert, and we went backstage to say hey to B," he recalls. "I told her, 'You killed it tonight,' and she said 'I learned it from you.'"

Now that he's no longer inspiring people from the basketball court, Bryant hopes that he can still do so through story, which is a big reason why he wrote "Dear Basketball" when he did. While he didn't mention whether he has more poems or short films up his sleeve, Bryant 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."