When Kobe Bryant died one year ago today, the news arrived as a shock, particularly in the Los Angeles area where Bryant was widely beloved. Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash alongside eight other people, among them his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, was 41. Just four years earlier, he played his last game in an NBA career spent entirely with Los Angeles Lakers.
Bryant left behind a complicated legacy, though his status as an icon in Los Angeles and among NBA fans has only been cemented since his death. In his post-basketball business career, he had just begun to carve a path in media and entertainment — a natural fit for someone who was regarded with awe by hundreds of thousands of Angelenos. One year since his death, the future of his fledgling media ventures appears a open question.
“I think the media side of things is much more difficult to sustain than the product side where you’re selling his shoes and his jerseys,” says Windy Dees, a sports-administration professor at the University of Miami. “The one thing you can’t replace when the athlete is gone is there creative soul. You can’t know what to create that Kobe would have created, what types of movies, shows, content that he would have put out or who he would have partnered with. But you can’t replace a visionary like that.”
Bryant’s prospects in the entertainment business were promising. He won an Academy Award in 2017 for best animated short with “Dear Basketball,” based on a piece that Bryant had written for the Players Tribune about his retirement from the game, and produced by his Granity Films. Glen Keane directed and animated the short.
“In the locker room before his very last game he’s texting me about wanting to do ‘Dear Basketball,’” Keane said. “And I’m thinking, ‘What are you doing? You should be focusing.’ But he was already passed basketball — and yet he played the most amazing game of his life that night. Yet he was committed to something new. He was a student.”
With its Oscar win, “Dear Basketball” has had the most lasting legacy of any of Bryant’s projects. The company’s one current television series is ESPN Plus’ “Detail,” a sports-analysis program. At the time of Bryant’s death, he and Keane had been working on an animated version of “The Punies,” a scripted podcast produced by Granity. The company has also been behind several books published in the last year.
Those projects could still come to bear fruit. Each of them bears Bryant’s creative imprint. How aggressive Granity is in pursuing TV or film development based on them remains to be seen. The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that Bryant’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, has assumed a leadership role at the company. According to LinkedIn, Molly Carter, who had served as president of the company, exited in September.
Bryant did not have the opportunity to grow his footprint in the entertainment business. But Keane believes he was pursuing it with a seriousness and earnestness that would have led to success.
“I really enjoyed the collaborating spirit that he had,” Keane says. “It works in animation. It works on the court. It just works.”