Isaiah Thomas reached out to Kobe Bryant for some help during last year’s NBA playoffs. Thomas had scored 53 points combined in the first two games of the Celtics’ series against the Bulls, but his team was down 2-0.
“I said, ‘All right, send me your touches from the game,’” Bryant recalled. “‘I’ll take a look, we’ll hop on the phone and I’ll tell you what I see.’”
Bryant watched the film, then called Thomas to suggest some adjustments. He gave Thomas suggestions on how to manipulate the defense by predicting their next few moves.
“He was kind of like, ‘Wait, is that how you watch film?’ I said, ‘Yeah dude.’ He said I’ve never heard of watching film that way. It opened up a new perspective for him in terms of how he attacks the defense. They won the next four games of the series.”
That interaction is at the crux of Bryant’s latest creative project, which is available on ESPN+, a subscription-based platform that launched Thursday and is available on the ESPN app. It includes live sports programming, an on-demand library of ESPN documentaries and shows, and original programming.
One of those original programs is a show called “Detail,” written, produced and hosted by Bryant. “Detail” will feature Bryant breaking down film from the perspective of various NBA stars to help teach others the game of basketball the way legendary NBA assistant Tex Winter once taught him.
It’s a project with a very narrow focus. Bryant isn’t concerned about creating a show that has a broad appeal.
“There will be certain things that a casual fan may not understand,” Bryant said. “There will be certain things they won’t get but I do believe that will pull them along. That really elite, high level of conversation that we talk about as players, that will pull fans along where they understand the game and see the game at a deeper level.”
The first episode features Bryant, who is rarely on camera, breaking down Game 6 of the 2009 Western Conference Finals. Throughout the playoffs the show will feature Bryant breaking down games aired by ESPN the night before.
The collaboration with ESPN comes four months after Bryant bristled at the network’s treatment of a quote he gave during an interview with Spectrum SportsNet. Bryant said several of the Lakers needed to get better “now,” listing each by name, but a tweet sent on ESPN’s Twitter account implied that Bryant singled out Lonzo Ball and demanded a sense of urgency from the rookie.
Bryant expressed his frustration at the time through his own Twitter account, indicating the network had lost his trust with the tweet. But when it came to partner with the company, he said that situation didn’t give him pause.
“It’s such a big company,” Bryant said. “When you have such a big company you’re bound to have a few idiots.”
He sees the content he’s created with ESPN as “high-level content, and added that he had no concerns about the executives with whom he’s worked -- Connor Schell, ESPN executive vice president of content, and Kevin Wildes, ESPN’s vice president of original content -- calling them “excellent.”
That doesn’t mean he lets ESPN off the hook when he sees click-bait-type stories it publishes or promotes.
“I always give them crap in joking with them about some of the content that they put out there, click bait and all this silly nonsense they put out there,” Bryant said. “I understand they are a big company that’s churning out sports stories.… You’re bound to have information out there that’s pointless and useless and not factual.”
Bryant believes there is a public service element in the show.
“If this show existed when I was 11 or 12 years old, I believe by the age of 21, 22, I would have been a much better basketball player,” Bryant said. “It’s the grand hope of making basketball better.”
When he learned how to watch film this way, it made him a better player. That started in earnest in 1999 when Phil Jackson became the Lakers head coach and brought Winter, his legendary assistant, with him.
From the start of the preseason until the end of the playoffs, Winter insisted on watching every play of every game with Bryant. It took 4½ hours as they watched film on cassette tapes, sometimes in Winter’s room if they were on the road, sometimes at the Lakers’ practice facility.
“When you sit down with Tex and watch every minute of every game with Tex, you tend to learn a lot,” Bryant said. “I said, ‘Why don’t I put this in a show?’”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli