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Projects Kobe Bryant Left Behind Following His Death in a Helicopter Accident in Calabasas, California
“‘I don’t know what you want to do when you retire,’” Kobe Bryant recalled friends telling him after he stepped away from the game, in an interview with USA Today just days before he died in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna on board. “‘You’re going to go through a state of depression.’ ‘You’re going to have an identity crisis.’ These are all things that were said to me because people were genuinely concerned.”
It was a legitimate question to ask: Who is Kobe Bryant—arguably the most dedicated, borderline-obsessive player the NBA has ever seen—without a basketball in his hands?
It turns out he was a hell of a lot of things. Bryant could have stepped into the broadcast booth and predicted, Tony Romo style, every other play for the next 30 years. But to Bryant, that probably seemed small. After he retired from the NBA, he helped make BodyArmor into a formidable Gatorade competitor, founded a multimedia company, Granity Studios (which created ESPN’s Detail), and won an Oscar for his animated short film, Dear Basketball.
That all happened in roughly three years. Future owner, hoops broadcast fixture, traveling NBA elder statesman—Kobe wasn’t going to become any of those things. He was turning into something different. Bryant was just beginning to make genuine art (just watch the brilliantly animated Dear Basketball. It’s hard to argue against.), which leaves us wondering what more he would’ve created.
Considering we hardly saw any of it, our best hint might be in what you could consider one of Bryant’s missteps: the short-lived ESPN children’s show, Inside Kobe Bryant’s Musecage. It was a semi-dark, evil-twined Sesame Street, starring Bryant as the host, and his puppet sidekick Little Mamba, a Harden-and-Westbrook-idolizing aspiring baller. Instead of Sesame Street, the action happened in Canvas City, a sort of college campus for those looking to crib from Bryant’s win-and-make-no-friends mentality.
In each episode, Bryant coached up Little Mamba like a seasoned hoops professor. The first lesson: What’s a musecage? Bryant explains, “A musecage is a room decorated with any and everything that inspires you. When you’re in your musecage, you’re surrounded by musings that keep you focused and motivated.” Later on, Bryant gives a Detail-esque breakdown of Russell Westbrook and James Harden’s highlights to Little Mamba.
Although Musecage is clearly inspired by Sesame Street, where Bryant made an earnest cameo in 2010, it feels almost entirely new. Its silhouetted art direction is beautiful. Its songs are Christmas carol-sounding, wistful odes to being the best. Musecage even included a surprisingly dark turn at the end of its first episode. The show was an early glimpse of Bryant’s artistic voice, and an unabashedly weird presentation of his all-hustle mindset which, when he retired, we thought was only that—a crazy-hard, hundred-shots-per-day work ethic.
I’ll admit: I thought Muscage was silly at first. Here was Bryant, who notoriously took himself very, very seriously during his 20 NBA seasons, expecting us to buy into his comedy routine with a purple puppet in a construction hat. Rewatching it now, after watching hours of Bryant’s friends talk about him on SportsCenter, it makes much more sense.
Musecage, retrospectively, feels autobiographical. Little Mamba? Not just a cute name. In Episode One, Bryant teaches Little Mamba about the dangers of using “dark muses” as motivation, and how ugly you become when you use fear and pain to push yourself forward. At the end of Episode Two, after gaining an elementary knowledge of how to read a defense, Little Mamba goes, “I’M…A…BEAST!” He paces back and forth, rambling about how he’s going to dunk on someone’s face en route to a quintuple-double.
Bryant gives a knowing smirk to the camera—sound like a certain young, overconfident Laker? You have to wonder if the next episodes of Musecage would’ve charted the rest of the lessons Bryant learned throughout his career: Humility, finding an identity outside of work, forgiveness. In Musecage, Bryant was speaking to himself—and his family.
Musecage wasn’t perfect, and neither was Kobe Bryant
Musecage wasn’t perfect, and neither was Kobe Bryant, but look back and you’ll see the work of a young father creating a show he likely thought would impact his daughters. Gianna was 10 years old and shooting hoops at the time, and cramming two minutes of a high-level basketball close-read into something that might have engaged her is about the most Kobe thing I can think of.
It’s all Mambaspeak disguised in Sesame Street-style maxims: Turn criticism into motivation, surround yourself with the things that motivate you, and Episode Two’s parting lesson, something Kobe lived himself—be a leader, not a follower. It might be the most unique view of his signature Mamba Mentality we have left.
As we watch Russell Westbrook slam one over Anthony Davis, a voiceover says, “If you write the game that others read, you become a champion.”