"Kobe Doin' Work" Is Hard Labor For The Viewer

May 19, 2009

Last week ESPN aired a 90-minute documentary entitled "Kobe Doin' Work", about a "gameday" in the life of Kobe Bryant. It promised insight into both NBA basketball and Kobe.

In theory, the premise sounds reasonably interesting. You take the most-skilled player on the planet, on the most glamorous team in the league, and throw in acclaimed film director Spike Lee, and you should get an exciting flick for NBA fans, right?


Lee's new documentary is without a doubt one of the dullest and most boring programs on any subject in the history of modern television.

Where to begin? The subject of the documentary is one regular season game during the 2008 season between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center. Thirty cameras were used to view the floor from different angles and the microphones were placed everywhere so that we can hear the action on the court, the bench, and the locker room.

How could a concept with such potential not deliver? Here are 8 reasons:

1. Kobe Himself is the Narrator of This Documentary.

Kobe revisits the game months later and gives voice-over commentary that leads us through what we see. While this technique gives us the opportunity to see the floor through Kobe's eyes, it also puts us at his mercy. We rely on Kobe's personality and flair for storytelling to keep us entertained.

What we learn is that Kobe is really just a basketball nerd. He really loves the minute details of the game and can talk about them endlessly. This may be good for a summer basketball camp, but not for television.

Also, Kobe's narration is about as stale as most of his answers to media questions. He is just so vanilla. Kobe preaches the virtues of hard work, good defense, doing your best, and planning strategy. Valuable virtues to be sure, but hardly enlightening stuff.

When commenting on other players, Kobe is quick to compliment both his opponents and his teammates. He seems very concerned with not criticizing anybody. Where is the fiery leader with the will-to-win we are told about? Is this the real Kobe? If it is, I didn't realize he completely lacked a personality.

2. The Basketball Footage Has Little to Do With What Kobe is Talking About.

For example, when Kobe goes off on a long and technical tangent about the pick and roll, we don't see an example of a pick and roll from the game or a replay of the one Kobe is commenting about. The viewer is just left listening to Kobe as we watch play resume or see a break in the action.

3. Kobe is Standing Around Too Much.

Oddly enough for a basketball game, we see very little of Kobe in action. He is most often shown to be just loafing out on the perimeter and directing traffic. Was this poor editing, was the point to emphasize Kobe's "leadership," or was Kobe just tired? Who knows, but it's undeniably boring.

4. Kobe Talks Too Damn Much.

Part of this problem may be with Spike Lee's editing, because he wants to maximize the role Kobe plays. Yet there is no doubt that by the end of the film you are sick and tired of listening to Kobe's voice.

Kobe is constantly lecturing his teammates on how to improve their games in a manner that borders on condescension. Yes, he is more knowledgeable and talented, but these guys are professionals too, and sometimes Kobe seems to forget this. Kobe for his part appears genuinely unaware of how he might look, perhaps because he doesn't care anyway.

There are a number of times when you want to hear what Phil Jackson or one of his teammates are saying, but Kobe narrates right over them. When he doesn't do that, the Kobe in the documentary interrupts them or starts talking himself. Very little footage is shown of Kobe actually listening to what anybody else says.

5. The Use of Slow Motion is Almost Hilariously Inappropriate.

Only Spike Lee can explain why he randomly picked moments of the game to show in slow motion. One can presume it was for some intended stylistic effect. But his choices can be described as bizarre at best. Do we really need to see Kobe fumble the ball away in slow motion? Do we need to see missed shots in half-speed?

6. The Music of the Film was Terrible.

The background music of the documentary is very much akin to elevator music on piano. It is unclear what Lee was shooting for, but if he was seeking a cool, jazz-type feel, he missed the mark by a lot.

Worse yet, since the narration was boring, the music only adds to the viewer's drowsiness.

7. Kobe Seems to be Acting at Times.

Okay, maybe Kobe is this really helpful teammate who doesn't yell at teammates or opponents. Maybe Kobe does take over timeout huddles, grab the clipboard, and draw up plays himself while amused teammates (Fisher appears to be laughing at him while he uses the clipboard) watch. Maybe a lot of what we have been told about him is exaggerated. Maybe.

But damn it, we know he complains a hell of a lot more to the refs than what we saw.

Kobe narrates that he often argues with the refs on behalf of his teammates, yet no one who has seen him play can dispute his propensity to argue his own calls constantly. You cannot block a Kobe Bryant shot without him screaming for a foul.

Oh yeah, and he never swears or curses either?

8. The Film Destroys the Excitement Inherent in Watching a Basketball Game.

This is the biggest tragedy of the documentary.

By chopping the game up into so many angles, the last saving grace -- the actual game itself -- is made to seem dull. Very little attention is given to the score or to the statistics that could help us see how the game is going. By not bringing the camera back and letting us absorb the wider picture, we lose the competitive feel rather than gain a sense of it. By isolating the game to Kobe's perspective, we are trapped rather than liberated.

What makes a game documentary great is its story. When one thinks of the drama and excitement of watching an NFL Films production, it becomes clear that those shows excel due to the storyline tension that they bring.

Rather than giving us a story, Lee has handed us a glorified post-game film session.

Absent such a story, this bad documentary is even less interesting than the mundane regular season blowout that it purports to cover.

By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com


  1. now i see why some players fall asleep in film sessions.

  2. That was an excellently written article. I had plans to see the movie, but your article has convinced me otherwise. It's good to see a sports website that not only covers sports, but also the sport tangents like basketball documentaries.


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