I have a lot of favorite memories from working with Kobe and could never narrow it down to just one. So here are two:
Early on in the edit for Muse when we were deciding what we really wanted the tone of the doc to be, we’d have these all-hands-on-deck meetings in our edit bunker down in Newport Beach. Oh yeah, WE BUILT AN ENTIRE EDIT ROOM down in Newport where Kobe lived because he demanded it. He said there was no way we were editing a film about him up in L.A. I argued with him about this, and eventually pretty much everything else, but there was no version of him that was willing to compromise. So…Newport it was. Anyway, back to the brainstorm. At one point, one of our collaborators made a reference to Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky and how maybe we could emulate the opening of the film–capturing its brewing intensity and sense of foreboding. Everyone loved the idea and there was growing enthusiasm the more we discussed it. Except for Kobe, who remained quiet. I asked him what he thought and he just shook his head. He hadn’t seen Black Swan, so didn’t really have an opinion. I told him we could probably pull up a link online and watch it together so he could check it out and react to it.
“No,” he said. “I’ll watch it tonight and we can talk about it tomorrow.” I agreed to the plan.
The following morning, I met him in his office. It couldn’t have been more than 12 hours since we were last in the edit room together with the group.
“So, what did you think?” I inquired.
He nodded. He liked the idea. But he also wanted to talk about a specific scene in Aronofsky’s hallmark Requiem for a Dream. And he really liked the edge and intensity of Pie. Truly, he continued, The Wrestler may be the best analog. And while he knew The Fountain hadn’t been entirely well received by critics, he liked the surrealism of it and thought there were probably elements of that film that we should think about for Muse.
I stared at him speechless. I was doing the math in my head. It was quite possible that he had done nothing else since I last saw him but watch Aronofsky movies. Like not even had a meal or gone to the bathroom, let alone slept.
I asked him why he felt the need to watch all those films.
He shrugged. “How could I have an opinion on Black Swan and why Aronofsky did what he did if I didn’t understand his mind?”
For him, it wasn’t about understanding the film, it was about understanding the artist’s mind. That was Kobe.
Before we made the version of Muse that aired on Showtime, which really was an amalgamation of over a dozen very intensive interviews with Kobe and really became an incredible insight into his psyche, we actually made a more traditional documentary that was largely made up of various interviews with people that knew Kobe through the years. People like Jerry West, Shaq, Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, Jeanie Buss, Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s sister Sharia and others. At the end of every interview, I asked everyone for three words that came to mind when describing Kobe. As you could imagine, I got a lot of the same responses: “competitor,” “intense,” “passionate,” “driven,” “relentless.” Vanessa had ones that gave a glimmer of a side that only she probably knew: “goofy,” “tender,” and, of course, even she described him as “competitive” and told great stories of how the two of them competed over, well, everything.
But for me, it was probably Kobe’s former teammate Steve Nash that provided the most notable three words. He thought about it for a few seconds before nodding to himself.
“Mother…Fucking…Asshole,” he said and grinned.
Before he knew Kobe as a teammate on the Lakers, Steve battled Kobe as an adversary whenever the Lakers went up against the Phoenix Suns, where Steve incidentally had earned multiple MVPs, in part by never backing down from Kobe, who had four inches on him and probably 40 pounds (give or take). “Tell him I said that,” Steve ordered me.
And that’s what I did the next time I sat with Kobe. He laughed hard.
“I love that! It’s true! It’s true!” he agreed, almost wistfully.
After a beat, I asked him to describe himself in three words.
He thought about it, shrugged and said:
“I’m just me.”
I agreed with that. Entirely.
He was simply one of a kind.