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Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 at 5:20 pm  |  64 responses

Links: Review: Kobe Doin’ Work

Lang doin’ review

by Lang Whitaker

When I first heard that Spike Lee was making a documentary about the reigning NBA MVP, entitled Kobe Doin’ Work, I have to confess that I wasn’t sure I’d be altogether interested in devoting another 90 minutes of my life to Mr. Bryant’s work. (I was also wondering who left the “g” off of “Doing,” but that’s another story.) After all, like any NBA nut, I’ve spent most of the last 13 seasons watching Kobe do work night after night after night.

But Spike was promising us unprecedented access and insight to Kobe. With 30 cameras trained on every move Kobe made during a game against San Antonio last April, and then with Kobe contributing a voice over once the film was edited, Spike definitely had the ingredients for a revealing look at one player on one night in the NBA.

Last night I sat down to watch Kobe Doin’ Work, and to be honest, I went into it not expecting much. Sure, Spike Lee is a great filmmaker and storyteller, but I’d heard the deluge of comments on Twitter from people who said it wasn’t worth watching.

But to me, Kobe Doin’ Work was better than I expected. (And as someone who once wrote a screenplay on Kobe, I had a vested interest in this flick.)

Lee smartly limits this documentary on Kobe to one game. There is very little backstory, and except for a few establishing shots and a shot of Kobe and his family driving out of the Staples Center at the end of the movie, the entire thing takes place inside the Staples Center. While a documentary about Kobe’s life might be much more interesting, delving into that can of worms would need to be a month-long mini-series.

spike-lee-and-kobeBut at the same time, at 90 minutes long, Kobe Doin’ Work is about 30 minutes too long. By the 75th minute, the Lakers are winning in a blowout. Kobe doesn’t even play the entire fourth quarter of the game, so Spike attempts to move things along by popping up and asking Kobe questions in the voiceover. By the time the credits roll we’re watching a Spurs/Lakers game while Kobe is talking about scoring 61 points at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks a year after the game that’s taking place.

The first 15 minutes were terrific. Spike’s cameras follow the Lakers into the locker room for their pregame meeting. For all the hours I’ve spent in NBA locker rooms over the last eight years, the media is always kicked out before anything interesting related to the game that evening happens. On this night, Phil Jackson rolls a tape of a Spurs game in Portland, probably from a few nights before. Phil calls Tony Parker a “one-man fastbreak” and says, “He falls down a lot, you guys know that.” Phil also tells the captains, “Make sure you tell the refs my coach said don’t let Oberto or Duncan pick and use their hands.”

The Lakers then adjourn to a hallway nearby, where they huddle up and start yelling and screaming and hyping each other up, and then the team all sprints out onto the court, where they’re met by thousands of adoring fans. Kobe mentions that he always gets goosebumps at this point on game night, and I understand the sentiment.

The game tips off, and movie becomes a series of shots of Kobe within the context of the game. I’ve seen the Zidane movie that Spike Lee was supposedly inspired by when making this Kobe movie, and the Kobe footage looks similar to the Zidane stuff. But right away I remembered what I didn’t like about the Zidane movie: Watching Zizou in tightly-zoomed detail is fascinating for about 3 minutes, interesting for about 7, and then boring after about 10. I cared about Zidane, and the little bursts of action when the ball would come into his space were really cool and intense, but I evetually found myself starting to wonder about the game itself, and I wanted to see more of the action.

Spike treats the actual game being played with a little more importance than the Zidane documentarians, using many more long shots and overhead angles that show what is happening away from Kobe. Spike also smartly uses Mike Breen’s commentary from the game’s telecast to fill in the gaps of things we’re not able to see. For instance, as Kobe tries to keep an eye on Bruce Bowen, then abruptly turns and runs up court, Breen tells us Finley has hit a three from across the floor.

And then there’s the matter of Kobe’s voiceover. While Zidane doesn’t even speak in his film, Kobe narrates much of the action, explaining what plays are happening and at one point giving a long,  interesting explanation of what the Triangle Offense actually is. But Kobe also spends a lot of the voiceover telling us things we already know (i.e.: he hates turnovers) and, worse, he almost seems to be trying to convince us of how much he loves basketball and that he has a high basketball IQ. At one point he even claims that he calls a lot of the inbounds plays before Phil does because they’ve been together for so long that they now see the court in the same way. (Although I’m pretty sure Phil’s been around the game a little longer than Kobe has.)

Spike catches a lot of interesting interplay between Kobe and the other people on the floor. At one point, lining up for a free throw, Kobe asks Kurt Thomas, “Are you going to play until you’re about 50?” Thomas responds, “Hell yeah!” He should’ve made a money sign with his fingers, too.

During a timeout about 5 minutes in, with San Antonio up 14-9, Kobe tells Vlad Radmanovic to pressure Tony Parker on pick and rolls, and Vlad Rad looks at Kobe with such blank eyes that it made me laugh out loud. It was like Vlad’s wasn’t even sure if he was at a basketball game.

At halftime, with the score tied and Tony Parker torching the Lakers for 18 points, Kobe tells his teammates they have to do a better job defending TP. Which is when Lamar Odom pipes up from across the room and says they should “lay him out” the next time he drives. To which Kobe doesn’t really respond.

If there was anything I came away with from watching the full ninety minutes of Kobe Doin’ Work, it was this: Kobe does not shut up. Not in the locker room, not in the huddles, not on the court. Heck, not even on the voiceover. If we are to take this film of one game as a sample representation of what it is like to play basketball with Kobe Bryant, then being a teammate of Kobe Bryant must border on unbearable. Because Kobe is constantly telling his teammates what they are doing wrong.

Kobe tells Farmar to drive, and tells him exactly what to do in order to get a shot off. Kobe tells Lamar how to defend in the post. Kobe tells Luke Walton where to cut on offense. Kobe tells Derek Fisher not to pump fake but to take an earlier look. Kobe tells guys to block out, tells Sasha Vujacic something in Italian, tells Vlad Rad where to go on the court to receive a pass, tells Pau Gasol what play they need to run. The only thing more jarring than the amount of time Kobe spends talking at his teammates is the comparative lack of time he seems to spend listening to them. You know that one guy when you’re playing pick-up ball who tells everyone else exactly what they’re doing wrong? That’s who Kobe seems to be. At one point Kobe even grabs a board in a timeout and diagrams defensive rotations for everyone else to see. In the voiceover, Kobe says he didn’t realize he talks so much. I bet his teammates do.

And maybe that’s OK. When you’re playing with someone as gifted as Kobe is, he can certainly be a helpful presence to guys who aren’t as talented as he is. Does he come off as a guy who I would hate playing with? Yes. But then, I’m not on the Lakers.

His teammates seem to like playing with him. At one point between quarters, Sasha Vujacic asks Kobe to please complain to the refs that the Spurs are getting away with shoving players making backdoor cuts. Kobe tells him that even if he says anything it won’t matter, because they’re not going to call anything, so he should just play through it. Vujacic looks crushed by this piece of information. (And I love that he thought to ask Kobe to talk to the refs about it, as though he knew it would be better coming from Kobe than from him.)

One thing I really appreciated about Kobe Doin’ Work was how Spike Lee presented the basketball. I must have watched millions of hours of televised NBA games by now, but Spike mixes and matches angles and speeds to create a compelling visual. At one point, Kobe drives and gets fouled, and Spike breaks the drive into a series of snapshots and herky-jerky freeze frames to convey the physicality of the drive. When Kobe is sprinting up the floor and then gets stopped cold by a Duncan pick, it’s such a jarring hit that the break in the flow hits the viewer as well.

Watching just Kobe for so long, I was struck by how technical his game is. He’s unbelievably light on his feet for a guy his size, yet he moves with such an economy of motion, and then has little bursts of speed that are going to be faster than your fastest bursts of speed.

Finally, there’s the issue of truth. Knowing his every step was being filmed and that he was wearing a live microphone, did Kobe act differently than he would have otherwise? Well of course he did. Who wouldn’t? Someone texted me while the movie was airing on ESPN on Saturday night and said, “Do you think Kobe is really like this, or is he acting like this for the cameras.” My response? Both. His entire life has been on camera, particularly since the summer of 2003 in Colorado, and at this point I don’t think he ever lets down his guard. And so this is what he has become. Kobe’s reality is a sort of invented and adopted one, which means if Spike Lee wants to show us what Kobe Bryant is really like as a person, he’s got a lot more work to do.

But as far as showing us what it’s like to be Kobe for about three hours on one night over a year ago, Kobe Doin’ Work nails that. Warts and all.

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  • http://www.myspace.com/mcnarrative Kieran

    I really failed to see the point of this ego stroking, sorry, documentary. It seemed that Kobe only did it to show everyone how well he reads the game and how he makes his team mates better. His talent and work ethic are undeniable but the things he tries to emphasise are, in my opinion the flaws of his game.

  • Myung

    I also came out of it, thinking the man just talks too much… and I’m still trying to figure out if that laugh is real or fake.

  • http://ittakesanationofmillionstoholdthissac.blogspot.com ciolkstar

    Even as a longtime Kobe basher, I had to watch this. It was just SO FREAKING BORING, I ended up changing the channel a bunch of times. It was just a film session with Kobe saying “God. I hate turnovers.” The one thing that I got out of it was a even deeper respect for how cerebral Kobe’s game is. He is obsessive about detail, and while at timnes a megalomaniac, I do respect his competitive drive.
    But it was really just a 90 minute fluff piece, great job Spike.

  • Delonte13

    For all the knowledge that he possesses about the Triangle offense, and for all the skills that he has developed, Kobe still is a poor leader. You could tell throughout the documentary that his verbage with teammates felt awkward and forced. Like he wasn’t trying to help them, but more so trying to show the viewer that he knew EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING.

  • Tommy Patron

    If anyone in the NBA is a robot, it’s got to be Bryant.

  • http://www.alllooksame.com Tarzan Cooper

    Lang doin’ review……most predictable, lame ssa joke ever

  • http://ittakesanationofmillionstoholdthissac.blogspot.com ciolkstar

    Just read the piece, great analysis. Especially the bits about Kobe telling everyone on his team what to do, once one guy would start tuning him out he’d just move on and start telling the next guy what to do. And I think your response of “both” to the text is absolutely dead on.

  • http://www.hoopsvibe.com/christopher_sells-authorHV106.html chiqo

    it was ok, but like you said about 30 minutes too long. they should have made it an entire day if it were going to be 90 minutes, maybe show him at shootaround, doing some everyday tasks, a little postgame, something interesting.

  • Clark Kent

    Spike’s my man, but this joint was boring. Maybe it had something to do with the fact they were playing the Spurs.

  • Clark Kent

    Lang you nailed it as usual.

  • http://fashionsensei.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/jackie-moon.jpg Jackie Moon

    People would be surprised that he actually takes responsibility for at least some of his on-court gaffes. At one point he sees himself turn the ball over and says “That’s just trying to do too much. Just a dumb play by me”.

  • http://nm TyWebb

    Lang,

    You must have seen any of Lee’s other films. I can’t believe you inserted a slight about how Spike left the “g” of “doin”.

    C’mon- you write about the NBA. Shouldn’t you be a little more aware and respetful of Black Culture?

  • Prison Mike

    I’d rather see how kobe trained

  • http://fashionsensei.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/jackie-moon.jpg Jackie Moon

    And yes, it would have been far more revealing to follow a game in which the Lakers lost to the opposing team.

  • sam

    boring

  • tenorca

    Spike’s gonna come to my office and do a piece called “Tenorca Doin’ Work.” I’m gonna get crazy with some Excel hotkeys, then eat some dim sum at lunch, chest bump my boss, and duck out 20 minutes early. Prepare to be inspired.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @Jackie Moon: Totally agree with your first point…I should’ve mentioned that.

  • http://www.twitter.com/TheDiesel Anton

    This is old news for Coby Karl.

  • Babygab

    I’ve heard that the Bron documentary “more than a game” is much better then this one ! Does anybody know the release date of the DVD ?

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    I don’t think Michael Jordan: To The Max has anything to worry about. It’s definitley well done and yes about 30 to 40 minutes too long. WAY TOO much time spent in the Spurs game, but it was shot well and Kobe really gives off no impressions to viewers of where he may or may not be different then anything previously reported/written/recorded about him. Overall, I’d give it a 6 out of 10.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ Moose

    Of course I watched it….for as long as I could stand. I was already sick of Kobe in the first place, so I watched half of it…before I was like, “I’m too close to throwing the remote through the TV I’m so sick of this man” so I turned it off. Very well done, but I hate Kobe too damn much.

  • Marco

    I’m not sure if I would really want to see a documentary on Kobe’s training. The guy does that kind of self-punishment work that makes you feeling like a croissant

  • Coach Master

    I really enjoyed this production. Most interesting was the banter and communication exchanges that takes place between Kobe and his team mates, as well as opposing players. All of these ventures contain and element of ego flexing, but if you can get beyond that, it is a solid documentary by Spike.

  • http://www.kb24.com The Seed

    I like the documentary, and felt it showed how Kobe really wants to win. Spike should have started from the mornining to night against another team, but overall its good. For the people saying Kobe is a robot is funny to me, when other players promote themselves to much in this league. All Kobe wants to do is win, plus who doesn’t talk alot of the court, I talk alot to scrubs to get them right on the court and if they get tired of it who cares and this is all Kobe is doing. If you don’t like Kobe who cares, he still has the number one selling jersey and Kobe will do work on the Nuggets.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    As much as I h@ted Kobe during the Rockets series, I still have to respect him as the best player in basketball right now.
    Finally Spike puts something new out. I’ll check this one out later.

  • aotearaw

    What does dropping the ‘g’ off ‘doin’ have to do with ‘Black Culture’? Stupid call.

  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    “self punishment workouts that make you feel like a croissant”. My favourite line in a long time on slamonline.

  • http://www.eric32woodyard.wordpress.com Eric Woodyard

    I enjoyed the documentary…I just think spike shouldve included the whole day as well…including his pre game routine and maybe even a sit down interview with Kobe in the end…but I loved it!

  • Jose

    Kobe is doing work.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Cheryl

    I purposely didn’t watch it because Lang promised a review. Thanks for that. It was as I anticipated. I really do think that Kobe doesn’t know the “real” him from the manufactured one. I wonder what his life will be like after basketball and out of the lime light. Will he survive with his psyche intact?

  • http://slamonline.com/online/category/blogs/fear/ Freedom Fries

    Croissants feel great – preferably with almonds – how could they ever be a negative? espèce de plouc.

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  • http://allanzuss@yahoo.com Mendel

    It sucked, boring.

  • Brian

    I really think it would have been better if it was just a 15 minute black and white film of a forlorn Kobe standing still holding a sign that says ‘I’M A NICE GUY!’ with a couple of cutaways to a smiling David Stern holding a sign that reads ‘HE REALLY IS KIDS!’.

  • Blue

    Yeah…this was a lot better than that bootleg documentary in the 90′s, Mo Betta Bulls…

  • Roberto

    Is there any sequel in the making, “Kobe’s wife Doin’ Psycho?”

  • http://nbainchina.com NBA China

    Yea Kobe overdid the talking..and had pretty poor game as well. Expected more. If this is the pinnacle of NBA documentaries, I’m really disappointed.

  • Pardeep

    This is what the media did to Kobe you think he would have done this 5 years ago? NO!. Kobes still the best player in the league but Im preety he sure he did this to show everyone he is truly misunderstood on the court and probably tried showing how hard his job is. This is a message to the league and the stars in it from Kobe: You will never be like me It is this hard. Im preety sure D-wade and Bron and Melo and CP3 and Bosh don’t talk like this. I wonder if he talked like this when he was averaging 35 ppg and consistently dropping 50 every week. Hes still amazing tho

  • Jay G

    The worst thing about Kobe Doin Work is they picked a game he wasn’t doing work in. I wish Spike would’ve did a few more games (especially the Dallas-LA game Sunday ABC) were Kobe put in work.

  • illydiva

    I co-sign with the commenters who said it was boring and too long, and mostly with what Jay G just said.

  • KILLAGORILLA

    Lang, you nailed this again bro. As a cat who was with you since the “grey page/no logo” days, it’s good to see you up here again.

  • http://twitter.com/OldPositivePat OldPat

    Kobe propaganda, pure and simple.

    Lang mentioned laughing at Vlad’s reaction to Kobe’s direction, as if he “wasn’t even sure if he was at a basketball game.” Don’t you think he looked that way because he was in shock: KOBE WAS TALKING TO HIM!

    Teammate interactions were easily the most interesting part of this 90 minute image-shiner, especially with Luke Walton.

    If memory serves me, Luke hit a three and the Spurs called a timeout. We cut to the bench, as Kobe is giving positive instruction to Luke during said timeout. As Kobe talks, Luke just stares at him with wide, hopeful eyes. It was like Kobe was the cool senior in high school, the starting quarterback/prom king and Luke was the dweeby ass freshman who sits by himself at lunch. Luke couldn’t BELIEVE Kobe was talking to him. It was all in the eyes. They never lie.

  • http://www.clutchfans.net nick

    I expected a substantial Denzel cameo, and an 80′s celtics/lakers argument. Spike is slippin.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com BETCATS

    ‘Kobe Commitin R@pe’ would have been a funner movie. Setting – Kobe is in charge of the interview process to find the new Swiss Miss girl, and wants to see who wants it the most.

  • http://finishline.com aaron12

    Damn that documentary was boring

  • bryce

    horrible!!!!!!!!!!

  • kh

    I’ve always wanted to “be” inside an NBA locker room. I really enjoyed the film. I wanted Spike to break down the basketball “IQ”. I’m not doubting that Kobe is a very intelligent player, that much is clear, it would have been nice to freeze frame some of the plays he was talking about. Speaking on certain flares or cuts and then going back to show what he meant. I guess just breaking the game down even more. My basketball IQ craving more. Presenting the impossible, it’s fun to try and go inside someone’s mind, especially when they are at the top of their game.

  • S. Trotter

    I enjoyed it. It was a tad long, I agree, but being able get a different perspective of the game and hear what his thought process is, was insteresting. I do think he might be the most annoying person to ever play with. He seems to want his team to see the court and play the way he does, and doesn’t get it that they aren’t gong to be on that level. So he never shuts the eff up, hoping they become awesome players by him instructing after every single play to point he becomes a pain in the rear.

  • S. Trotter

    I was secretly hoping that eventually one of them just said to him “dude, I’m just not as good as you, leave me alone for a second”

  • Harlem_World

    This was nothing more than a 90 minute commercial, ad funded (no doubt) by Nike. Trying to get any kind of personality we can relate to in Kobe Bryant is putting good money after bad. He’s a jer k and we all know it. Doesn’t mean he isn’t a good player, but leave it at that, he’s not the kind of guy you want to invite anywhere, ever. And as good as he is, if he yapped at me like that all game? I’d have a Kermit Washington moment.

  • vtrobot

    blah. great basketball player. disingenuous, fake, boring person.

  • vtrobot

    i think “she’s gotta have it” is much better.

  • kh

    why is everyone so quick to throw the “fake” label around? I don’t mind people having their own opinion but sh*t!!!

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Hi

  • swifthammer

    Spike is just selling out, He’s a Knicks fan he should have done Nate Robinson doin’work, everyone watches that documentary

  • RBGdUP

    i thought the film was stunning, maybe thats just me but i h ad to waqtch the encore presentation as well. I was thoroughly entertained

  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    Regarding the mentioned “counseling” that the supposed Einstein of Basketball gives his teammates, i beg of everyone to rewatch game 2 of LA-Nuggets. Intimately, with a detective’s keen sense of attention. It was a great game, actually for 2 teams i don’t care much for, it was a FANTASTIC game to watch. Loads of little subplots going on, but for me the second most intriguing one was Kobe TOTALLY demolishing his teammates when they made mistakes. Exhibit A, late in the 1st, Sasha misses a wide open J, horn sounds, Kobe walks towards the bench with Gasol ahead, but reaching back for a l’il low five, and the Great mind of B-Ball twitches (i kid you not) out of reach of Gasol, while his body language can be described as “pissed the eff off”. After numerous other displays of his simmering rage (that is an interesting subplot this postseason, he is always on the verge of losing it), with 4mins. to go in the 3rd, Chauncey pulls the patented 1-3 fastbreak, stop and pop three, during which Kob’s is pointing and shouting at Lamar to close out. Odom who was backpedalling at the time, and is quite fast for his size (but not THAT fast) fails to do so, and Kobe immediately displays more displeasure. Then my favorite one, the big Melo offensive board over Kob’s late in the 4th, the one where on the box out, the Robert Langdon of Basketball symbology grabs onto Melo’s shorts (hey, no biggie it’s a common practice in the paint, but if caught is an automatic foul), then gets overpowered, YET AGAIN by Bron-Lite, proceeds to lament loudly and with the usual aggressive gesturing to the refs that HE WAS THE ONE FOULED. Yeah, i’m sure his teammates luuuuuuv playing with this genius. (never mind that he fumbled the basketball not once, but TWICE in the last 2 minutes of the game to stall any chances of a tie by the lakers, or that he has NO CLUE how to defend Melo when he’s on him, of course the nobel prize winner of Basketball never makes mistakes).

  • http://www.google.com bulo1

    Whatching The documentary I realised Kobe’s persona has changed and it’s hard to judge him or treat him like the younger self

  • andy

    i think the Zidane film is a masterpiece. Spike Lee seems to have liked it for its gimmicks – 20 cameras on him, whatever. the important thing is the events of that particular football match perfectly captured all of his mercurial genius AND his shortcomings (i don’t want to spoil it for anyone by mentioning what happened.) however, like you say, the Kobe film was made during a blowout game, without too much drama involved. that was unlucky i guess. to me it was much less poetic and only interesting in a shallow, ‘gossipy’ kind of way. the bland quality of the digital camera technology didn’t help either (the Zidane film was sumptuous.) Kobe’s annoying blowhard commentary sealed the deal.

  • clapzilla

    Spike Needs To Make The Sequel About Kobe’s Defense On The Out of Bounds Play At The End of The 1st Half In Game 2. His Assist To Chauncey Was Better Than Any of LeBron’s Assists. If It Was Released On DVD We Could Get A Bunch of Special Features Like “Melo Destroys Kobe In The Post” And “Melo Forces Kobe Into 3 Awful 4th Quarter Shots” As Well As “Melo Makes Kobe’s Head Explode By Grabbing 17 Offensive Rebounds.”

  • Eric Manis

    Unbelievably self indulgent and a complete and utter bore. I cannot believe that anyone could find this interesting, basketball fan or not.

    Did anyone really learn anything about Kobe that they found compelling ? I mean come on – the only thing I found slightly eye opening was that Phil Jackson can’t even walk properly (double hip replacement ?).

    If you want to watch a good sports movie stick to fiction like The Natural or Major League hell I would take Semi-Pro over this Spike Lee Joint.

  • Andrew Toney is GOD

    I live in LA.
    Kobe is a winner. BUT this is post damage control for his image and
    NIKE $$$.
    Shaq is Rocky road to Kobe’s vanilla.
    Just think how great it would be to have SHAQ miked all night with
    commentary?

  • peter harrison

    Y’know, I came away with a completely different take than most reviewers here. I thought the piece was fascinating, just from the talking between the players, refs and coaches. And the cinematography added to the experience. And unlike the reviewer, I don’t think the majority of the Lakers dislike being Kobe’s teammate.
    I think that Kobe could go on and become a very successful head coach, because it’s apparent he lives and breathes basketball. And it’s this passion that drives his motor-mouth. He’s not necessarily berating his teammates – he just wants to not only win, but play the game technically the correct way. He’s thinking of all the options of al the players on the floor – a total tactician (although I agree with an earlier comment about how Walton and Sasha are enamored with Kobe actually talking to them). Also, the one player who seemed lost – Vlad – he’s now gone, traded away. PJ and Kobe want players who can deal with there wills. Plus, I thought Kobe was pretty self-deprecating throughout the commentary – like after one blown 3 attempt by Fisher, Kobe claps his hands in frustration, but Kobe’s saying that it was because he (Kobe) bobbled his dribble and didn’t get the pass to Fisher earlier.
    I’m not some Kobe-hater, and I’m definitely not some crazy Laker fan, but as an ex-college athlete, I found the access to the locker room, game and bench riveting, as well as Kobe’s commentary. If you’re not a true basketball fan, or sports fan, then yeah, this probably isn’t too exciting. But I got a kick out of it.

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