Glen Keane Kobe Bryant in Dear Basketball

Who does Kobe Bryant consider his idols?

To the names of Johnson, Jordan and Bird you can add Keane, Williams and Miyazaki.

The last three people don't hit jump shots or grab rebounds, but they inspired Bryant to pursue his new career of screenwriting and making films.

His current project is "Dear Basketball," an animated film based on a poem of the same title about his lifelong love affair with basketball. The composition was published in The Player's Tribune in 2015 to announce his retirement.

Kobe Bryant in Dear Basketball

"My original idea to make the poem into a film was because I wanted to find some way to work with John Williams," said Bryant, a fan of the prolific composer who scored the movie and whose resume includes "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter."

He then recruited Glen Keane, the Disney director and animator whose credits include "Beauty and The Beast" and "Aladdin."

Bryant collaborated with Keane on his avatar, honing his movements and facial expressions.  

"Getting Glen was the cherry on top," said Bryant, the film's creator, narrator and executive producer.

Bryant, 38, said he has been a longtime admirer of animation, specifically the Disney classics. And he spoke about Japanese anime legend Hayao Miyazaki with the kind of reverence basketball stars often reserve for Magic or Michael.

"The simplicity, the patience, his execution," Bryant said. "His films are beautifully shot."

Kobe Bryant in Dear Basketball

Bryant said he spent countless hours with Keane discussing Ward Kimball and Disney's "nine old men," the group of innovative animators who worked on classics films like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Pinocchio."

"They revolutionized animation," Bryant said.

A five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers and an 18-time All-Star, Bryant, who retired in 2016, is  now passionate about his new career.

"I love coming to the office and working on stories," he said.

Bryant and his new team will develop more projects that marry athletics and animation.

"We'll continue down this path for sure," he said. "We have a couple things in the works. 'Dear Basketball' was a great opportunity to test out animation and sports."

An astute player on the court, he has a game plan for potential films.

"Can we develop a story in a short amount of time to do sports that brings you emotionally into the story?" Bryant said. "It will be different athletes and different stories. Some will be fiction. Some won't be."

Bryant's production company, Kobe Studios, Sports Illustrated and Believe Entertainment Group have partnered to release "Dear Basketball" on SI.com in the fall.

Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant

Bryant puts aside his storyboards occasionally to keep up with his old occupation.

Phil Jackson, his coach during their dynasty days with the Lakers, struggled to build a winner as president of the Knicks. Jackson was relieved of his duties in June. However, Bryant feels that Jackson will prevail and hasn't tarnished his legacy.

"Sports has an ebb and flow," he said. "It happens. Players are tarnished. The coaches are tarnished. Everyone is tarnished until they turn things around, and everybody forgets about it.

"LeBron at one time was a pariah. Everybody said he can't come through. Now he's the best thing. There's ebbs and flows to everything. It's a cyclical nature. Phil will be just fine."

When he catches a game, he's enthused about today's stars.

"I still enjoy watching good players." he said, citing James, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook.

Bryant sees the Lakers getting back to contention with their new leadership (his former agent Rob Pelinka as GM and Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations) and a fruitful draft, headlined by Lonzo Ball.

"They have some great young pieces." he said. "And I know with Rob and Magic, this is right in their wheelhouse, a fastball right down the middle to them. Patience is always the key. Rob and Magic will have all they need to be able to turn this thing around."

Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal

Bryant also admires the style of the NBA's 2017 champions, the Warriors.

"I really love watching Golden State," he said.

And how would the Lakers of his prime fare against the champs?

"We would do just fine," he said. "They would be great games."

As he moves on to his new career, he hopes fans remember him "as a player that gave his all. Every ounce that I had I gave. And won. That's the key. Can you win championships? That's why we play the game. Fortunately for me and the Lakers organization, we were able to win five of them."

His one regret? "That I couldn't win seven," he said with a chuckle.

Although he still works with players such as Brandon Ingram, the Lakers' top pick last year,  he has no aspirations to do it full time.

"I'll always be around to help players out any time they want to reach out," Bryant said. "But coaching isn't it for me. Now I love working on stories."

-- Joe Brescia is on staff at The New York Times and is the author of "Sports Interviews: Quick Chats With The Stars."

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