Reel Players in the Game

| November 19, 2009 | 0 Comments


Kobe Bryant says basketball is two things: communication and execution. Now ask Spike Lee about Kobe Bryant, and he’ll say his basketball IQ is parallel to the genius of Albert Einstein.

Lee’s candid documentary, Kobe Doin’ Work: A Game in the Life of Kobe Bryant, takes a closer look into the elements of Kobe’s game. Lee clings a mike to The Los Angeles Lakers MVP and shadows him the entire Apr. 3, 2008 game against the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers are the 2007-08 season’s fourth highest-scoring NBA team. Puttin’ about 108 points on the board per game, The Lakers are also the highest-scoring Lakers squad in 18 years. The heat is on as the Lakers work to get the best record in the Western Conference upon winning this game.

Kobe Doin’ Work is a vintage Lee concoction minus the socially conscious and racial topics: still a plot with a multitude of hard-hitting themes within a tight time frame. Instead, his love for basketball plays a supporting role. The hardcore New York Knicks courtside mainstay rocks the orange and blue Nike windbreaker in his introduction on the Lakers’ home court at Staples Center. He calls the crowd at Madison Square Garden chanting “MVP” as Kobe steps on the court “blasphemous.” Lee damn near comes off a pure hater: the epitome of baller blockin’.

Still, the insightful yet controversial filmmaker uses his exclusive access; appreciation and knowledge of the game to respect Kobe as a true all-around player – further acknowledging him as “the greatest basketball player on the planet today.” Over the course of 85 minutes, Kobe’s athleticism is a cinematic conversation: neither SportsCenter game highlights nor a blur of news reels though ESPN analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Stephen A. Smith make brief cameos. Lee and cinematographer Matthew Libatique go in with 30 cameras (and the assistance of Lakers coach Phil Jackson) before the game; at halftime and post-game to craft a magnetic montage of slick black-and-white still photographs; close ups of marquee pixels and high definition cinematography. The sequences frequently transition from slow motion replays to high-speed. Kobe’s interpersonal, soft-spoken narrations follow with occasional bits of humor.

There is a scientific method and nature to Kobe’s game.

He works the entire court: an aggressive team player who knows his opponents’ game from their signature shots to their personality quirks. He is highly competitive and schematic. He guides by frequent pointing and shouting. He coaches from the bench and in the locker room. He jokes; speaks multiple languages and says the Lord’s Prayer at the end of each game. He attributes his success to Jackson, calling him his inspiration for his attention to detail.

There’s the humane Kobe – the one to call his own dumb-assed plays as legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar admires him courtside (sitting directly behind him nonetheless). He fucks up at game time: goin’ into the air without shooting the ball; drawing fouls; losing (and then awkwardly recovering) the ball. Before halftime, he pants and sweats profusely on-camera during his interview. The foul language is frequent. Hell, Kobe admits he still gets goosebumps during starting line-up announcements.

From arriving in a suit to changing into his uniform, Kobe Doin’ Work shows an all-American journey with basketball as an honest day’s work. Kobe’s quite the family man: admiring his two daughters’ “Daddy For MVP” signs and his wife’s massive archives of article clippings. Lee even reveals later that Kobe’s actual commentary is captured post-Feb. 2009 game at Madison Square Garden when he scores 61 points; scheduling conflicts and constant cancellations almost prevents the film from even happening. It’s also Kobe’s revelation — crediting his MVP honors to his team and admitting that Madison Square Garden is his venue to play at.

It’s quite a scene. The packaging even resembles an EA Sports video game – coming with a collector’s Upper Deck trading card enclosed in the first 50,000 discs. Deleted scenes include a nine-minute glimpse of the game’s fourth quarter and a post-game press conference. The slick black-and-white photo montage (also in Bruce Hornsby’s accompanying music video for “Levitate,” the film’s score) and behind-the-scenes footage are also included. There are also versions both without Kobe’s commentary and broadcast-friendly.

It’s back to basics. Kobe is a star athlete and a brilliant mind – and in Kobe Doin’ Work, Kobe, along with Lee, brilliantly breaks it down to a science.

Kobe Doin’ Work: A Game in the Life of Kobe Bryant
Produced and Directed by Spike Lee
ESPN Home Entertainment/Buena Vista Home Entertainment
40 Acres & a Mule Filmworks
2009; Color – Approx. 85 min.


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