Kobe Bryant hired a personal film crew to capture behind-the-scenes action during the Lakers star’s last season in the NBA, ESPN reported on Friday. Bryant’s 20th and final season with the Lakers was in 2015-16 and it culminated with his 60-point performance in a 101-96 victory over the Utah Jazz. The Lakers’ all-time scoring leader pushed through injury and pain that season, was voted to his 18th All-Star Game and was greeted with standing ovations and immense love from basketball fans at every stadium he visited.
The crew was granted unprecedented access to Bryant and the Lakers that season, similar to how Michael Jordan’s “The Last Dance” documentary footage was filmed. “The Last Dance,” a 10-part ESPN documentary on Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls, was highly anticipated by fans and the broadcast of the first two episodes averaged a record 6.1 million viewers. The next two episodes will air on Sunday night. Of course, the 1997-98 Bulls had a very different experience than the 2015-16 Lakers, namely in that the Bulls won their sixth NBA Championship while the Lakers endured their worst-ever season, finishing with a 17-65 overall record and missing out on the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
“Just watching them and being able to view what the cameras were doing to [capture] Jordan’s pregame routine, I mean, it’s the same thing,” said Marco Nunez, a former Lakers’ assistant athletic trainer during Bryant’s final season told ESPN. “Just flash forward … take out No. 23 with the Bulls and insert No. 24 with the Lakers. Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty much identical.”
According to ESPN, the footage gathered by Bryant’s film crew had been in the editing stages for a future documentary, although there was no timetable specified for its release. Following Bryant’s tragic death along with eight others in a helicopter crash in January, it is “unlikely” that the plans for the documentary have changed, per an ESPN source.
An earlier documentary about Bryant’s 18-year career, “Muse,” was released in February 2015. While Bryant produced that film, however, he was reportedly much more involved in the process of gathering and editing footage for the unfinished documentary which focuses on his last season. The soon-to-be Hall of Famer’s camera crew was everywhere during that final season, present in locker rooms, at both home and away games, on the team charter plane and even in the athletic training room. One anonymous former staffer even told ESPN that they weren’t able to tell Bryant’s camera crew to stop filming if the footage was deemed inappropriate like they could with Spectrum SportsNet’s crew, which also had an all-access TV deal with the Lakers.