Wednesday, December 2, 2015

An analysis of Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball”

Kobe Bryant has ended his love affair with basketball. The Los Angeles shooting guard announced his retirement from the team through poetry, using florid imagery and professing his lasting love for the game he knew from the young age of seven.

The stanzas have no pattern, with some lasting one line, others three, and others as long as seven. The variance could be read as the pattern of Bryant dribbling a basketball, a technique the all time great used to deceive his defenders to great effect in his storied career.

Bryant tells the story of his love affair with the personified basketball chronologically, from a tender boy “shooting imaginary… shots” and only knowing “one thing was real: / I fell in love with you.” As Bryant grew, his love only deepened. With sexual overtones, he says that “I ran up and down every court / After every loose ball for you.” Money and prestige did not push him, Bryant emphasizes, “but because YOU called me. / I did everything for YOU.” Using artistic license with his dismissal of capitalization, the brash use of capital letters here demonstrates Bryant’s anguish and implies that the recipient of this poem has failed to listen in the past.

Bryant’s frequent use of apostrophe communicates his pain. Basketball’s silence is deafening in this poem and it appears to have no response to Bryant’s long-lasting affection for it or any shared moments together. The actions Bryant describes are one-sided and laden with sacrifice: “A love so deep I gave you my all – / From my mind & body / To my spirit & soul” or “I played through the sweat and hurt.”

Using anthropomorphism, Bryant bemoans of basketball, “You asked for my hustle / I gave you my heart.” The slight alliteration of “hustle” and “heart” really emphasizes the connection Bryant and his basketball have. The bloody imagery of Bryant ripping out his heart echoes the climax of many William Shakespeare tragedies.

Unsurprisingly, Bryant’s repeated use of the word “love” shows that he has always loved basketball. Nevertheless, Bryant says “I can’t love you obsessively for much longer … my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.” This repetition of “love,” or, “heart” and “feel,” carries through the poem all the way to the penultimate line, “Love you always,” which serves as a letter closing. There are six mentions of “love,” two mentions of “heart,” three mentions of “feel,” two mentions of “deep,” and two mentions of “ball.” I've provided a word cloud below to help further analyze word frequency in his poem.

There is a shift towards the end of the poem from Bryant talking to basketball, to referring to them both as “we.” For example, Bryant tells basketball that “I want you to know now” that Bryant is retiring “so we both can savor every moment we have left together. / The good and the bad.” In this way, Bryant is telling basketball and all of his fans that he has had a difficult journey full of obstacles, which until this season he has been able to overcome to dominate the National Basketball Association. But just as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neil have successfully pivoted away from a career as an athlete in the past, so may Kobe's love of basketball guide him onto his next endeavor.