The former Los Angeles Laker’s Dear Basketball won an Academy Award for best animated short film, continuing a trend towards sports stars taking charge of their own media narratives.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on March 6, 2018

Five NBA championships, 11 All-NBA first team honours, a record-tying 18 NBA All-star appearances and, now, one Academy Award – it’s fair to say Kobe Bryant has accumulated quite the CV.

At Yesterday’s Academy Award ceremony, Bryant became the first NBA player to win an Oscar for his five-minute film, Dear Basketball. He won the award with Disney animator Glen Keane.

Based on his poem of the same name, the beautifully nostalgic film traces Bryant’s obsession with the game that began when he was just six years old.

The poem initially appeared in The Player’s Tribune in November 2015, where Bryant used it to allude to his retirement from professional basketball.

“You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream / And I’ll always love you for it” Bryant wrote in the poem.

“But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer / This season is all I have to give.”

Both the poem and the film have showed a softer side of the obsessive, ultra-competitive Bryant, a player who was widely feared but not always loved by opposing fans.

The unprecedented crossover of professional sports and Hollywood is a new twist on a growing trend of athletes bypassing traditional media to tell their stories. It is likely the success of Dear Basketball will inspire other athletes to find new ways to connect with their fanbase.

The unprecedented crossover of professional sports and Hollywood is a new twist on a growing trend of athletes bypassing traditional media to tell their stories.

New media outlets for athletes

The Player’s Tribune was only established in 2014, but has already become an important part of the sports media landscape.

The site comprises first-person narratives from prominent professional athletes such as footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and golfer Tiger Woods, one of the site’s contributing editors.

It has featured stories that have led the news cycle, including a moving account of surviving sexual abuse by gymnast Aly Raisman.

Former NBA MVP Kevin Durant also used a column on the site to announce his shock free agency defection to the Golden State Warriors.

In Australia, PlayersVoice was launched in 2017 with a similar concept, offering readers first-person stories from professional sportspeople. It promises “no beat-ups, no clickbait, no agendas.” It also offers an alternative to what it sees as the negativity of traditional sports media.

Lebron James’ multimedia startup, Uninterrupted, has a similar focus and has raised significant investment.

A political voice for athletes

Bryant also used his Oscars acceptance speech to hit back at comments from Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, who opined that basketball players should “shut up and dribble” instead of expressing their political opinions.

“As basketball players, we’re told to shut up and dribble”, Bryant said. “I’m glad we did a little bit more than that.”

Ingraham’s remarks were widely criticised, including a high-profile rejoinder from basketball’s biggest name, Lebron James, at the NBA All-Star weekend.

Critics of Players’ Tribune have pointed out that the stories are often ghostwritten. The site’s format can allow athletes to also avoid controversial or uncomfortable questions from journalists and shape their own narrative.

But it is hard to see the influence of the ‘players own’ style media outlets waning anytime soon.

Holding the trump card of access to some of sport’s biggest names, these new media outlets offer a service that many fans and the athletes themselves find extremely valuable.