Glen Keane remembers the moment he and Kobe Bryant won their Oscar. The legendary animator had worked on Academy Award-winning films such as Disney's Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid—as well as nominated movies like Tangled and The Princess and the Frog—but Keane took home his first-ever statuette when he and the late basketball star won Best Animated Short Film for Dear Basketball.
Dear Basketball sets the letter Bryant wrote announcing his retirement in 2015 to Keane's animation, with an original score by the incomparable John Williams. In 2018, when their movie won the Oscar for Best Animated Short, Bryant became the first ever former professional athlete to win an Academy Award. He also became the very first African American to win an Oscar in the Best Animated Short category.
"He was always on point, ready to respond to whatever was happening around him," Keane tells A.frame. "When Dear Basketball was named as the winner, I looked over, and Kobe was just" – he mimics Bryant sitting in stunned silence – "not moving, not even responding. I had never seen him like that. I said, 'Kobe, we gotta get up there, because the clock is ticking!'"
Onstage, Keane thanked the Academy, his crew, and his wife, Linda. Then, he thanked Bryant for writing Dear Basketball, before saying a few words about it. “It’s a message for all of us,” Keane said, “whatever form your dreams may take, it’s through passion and perseverance that the impossible is possible.”
Then, Bryant stepped up to the mic. "As basketball players, we're really supposed to shut up and dribble. But I'm glad we do a little bit more than that," Bryant said, going on to thank the Academy and several key collaborators. To end his speech, he told his wife, Vanessa, and their daughters, in Italian, that he loved them with all his heart.
"He never expected it," Keane recalls. "I mean, he should have. But I think the reality of it completely blindsided him. So, I just remember that moment—getting him going and walking up there together—and being so proud that I got to have a part in such an incredible career."
Last month marked two years since Bryant’s death on January 26, 2020, a tragedy that took the lives of Bryant, daughter Gianna and seven more.
"When he died, I don't think any of us knew the impact he had on the world," Keane says. "I came into work that day, and we all gathered around and shared memories of him, and [there were] tears, and we were just so thankful, because he made us feel like we were friends."
That feeling wasn't only reserved for those in Bryant's inner circle, but was felt by anyone who came into contact with the basketball great. Keane remembers, "You'd get on an elevator and there'd be somebody standing there, and he would always make a point [to talk] to the people around him. He made everybody feel very, very special."
"I remember just how much he valued his girls. His love of his family was incredible."
Nobody was more important to Bryant, however, than his family.
"When I first met him, he had Gianna sitting on his lap and he was constantly playing with her hair as we were talking," Keane remembers. Meeting to pitch Dear Basketball, Keane had not expected the entire Bryant family to be in attendance, but he soon learned that that was how the Bryants rolled. And when they couldn't be together physically – as on the press tour to promote the short film – Bryant was never far from them.
"His cell phone would ring and he'd look at it and it was Vanessa. And he never didn't take it. He always took it. And it was always, 'Hey, mama. How are you? What's up?' He valued her above everything around him," the director says. "I remember just how much he valued his girls. His love of his family was incredible."