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In celebration of its 15th anniversary, ESPN The Magazine greenlights ‘KOBE: The Movie’

KOBE: The Movie poster
KOBE: The Movie poster

To mark its 15th Anniversary, ESPN The Magazine reveals “Mag 15,” a double issue with an array of special features including a screenplay about Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant.

The Mag’s Sam Alipour — the movie’s “director” and Hollywood insider — takes us behind-the-scenes:

How did the concept of Kobe: The Movie come about?
Back in January, The Mag’s Senior Editor, Jenn Holmes, came to me with the admittedly crazy idea of finding five A-list screenwriters who’d pen one scene, each, for a mini-movie about Kobe Bean Bryant, the co-cover athlete of our first issue. It would be a new and interesting way to cover one of the greatest and most divisive athletes of our time, a guy who’d been covered every which way but not by Hollywood’s best screenwriters.

Turns out, the idea wasn’t so crazy — our first batch of scribes signed on within a matter of days. The response from Hollywood was so overwhelmingly positive we decided to expand our script to 10 scenes by 11 writers.

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KOBE: The Movie

To create “KOBE: The Movie”, a biopic of Kobe Bryant’s life, “ESPN The Magazine” recruited a collection of top Hollywood screenwriters to write imagined scenes based on real events involving the five-time NBA Champion. The award-winning writers and the chapters they wrote include:

Gregory Allen Howard (“Ali”): “The Beginning” about his boyhood in Italy
John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”): “The Denver Boot” on the sexual assault case in Colorado
Mike Rich (“Secretariat”): “An Era’s End” on the Phil Jackson/Shaq beef
John Gatins (“Flight”):  “81” on his 81-point game against Toronto
Mara Brock Akil (“The Game”): “Kobe’s Achilles’ Heel” on the relationship with his wife, Vanessa
David Kohan (“Will and Grace”): “The Visit” on Old Kobe
Doug Ellin (“Entourage”): “I’m Ready” on his first NBA All-Star game
Bill Lawrence (“Cougar Town”): “The K.H.C.” on the Lakers-Celtics Finals in 2010
Jackie and Jeff Schaffer (“The League”) on a Kobe PSA*
David Goyer (“Dark Knight” trilogy) “Balls” about middle school days *
— * Only in online “Director’s Cut”

How was The Mag able to recruit such well-known scribes for the screenplay?
In Hollywood, connections play a big role. Before joining The Mag, I spent several years working in motion picture development and production. I put my Rolodex to work, and got to begging. Once we got our feet in the door, the project didn’t require much selling. Our writers saw the assignment as a fun and challenging creative exercise, as well as a chance to salute — or vent about — LA’s brightest star.

ESPN The Mag 15th Anniversary cover.
MMA star Ronda Rousey adorns one of four ESPN The Magazine 15th Anniversary covers.

How were scenes assigned to the screenwriters?
We brainstormed roughly a dozen life stages — Kobe’s Italy years, high school days, early Lakers career, and so on — and offered them to our writers on a “first-come, first-served” basis. Beyond that, we did our best not to meddle. We wanted to give our writers what they covet most in their day-gigs, creative freedom, and allow them to interpret Kobe’s life through their unique lenses.

How close did The Mag come to getting Kobe to participate?
He appeared to be genuinely flattered and blown away by the concept. But the story came together as the Lakers were scrambling to make the playoffs. Then, he blew his Achilles. So, Kobe respectfully — and understandably — declined to participate. Still, maybe we can get him for the sequel, Kobe: The Comeback.

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