On March 4, 2018, 690 days after his last basketball game, Kobe Bryant did something no other athlete has ever done. Kobe Bryant won an Oscar. Let that sink in. Basketball obsessed, laser focused, 60-points (and 50 shots) in his last game, Kobe Bryant was on stage in front of Hollywood’s elite accepting an Academy Award.
As athletes have become more aware of their brands and increased their social and political involvement, we are also seeing these athletes blossom in a multitude of media endeavors. Gone are the days of the play by play booth being the only trek to media connection. Players, like LeBron James and Derek Jeter, have created platforms for players to express themselves in either written or video form with Uninterrupted and The Players’ Tribune, respectively.
Up until Kobe’s penultimate Oscar win, Lebron had been the trailblazer in the athlete media pursuits. He, while still dominating the NBA, has executive produced everything from documentaries, a popular cable network show (Survivor’s Remorse on Starz) and even a television game show (The Wall on NBC). The aforementioned Uninterrupted website is much more than just another athlete blog; it’s an aptly named haven for creative athletes. The website houses a plethora of athlete produced content that ranges from podcasts to former NBA-er, Al Harrington, documenting his cannabis extraction company in a thought provoking video well worth the 14-plus minutes to watch.
The important thing, though, is that this is by athletes for athletes. Uninterrupted indeed. This content is open, honest, and unabashed – just how we like our athletes to be. LeBron and his business partners, which were indecorously labeled as his “posse” in recent history, have paved the way for other athletes to step from behind the commentator table and spread their media wings. Dwyane Wade teamed with Chance the Rapper to executive produce a documentary about an Inner-City Chicago basketball team, entitled “A Shot in the Dark;” TNT has taken it’s “Player’s Only” idea that was originally used to give the regulars a break after the NCAA tournament coverage and turned into a weekly occurrence. During these broadcasts, former players are used for every on-air aspect of the broadcast, including sideline reporting and in-studio analysis; Jalen Rose is most likely the prototypical example of athletes reinventing themselves via media. With all due respect to Mike Golic, Rose has parlayed his gift of gab, once used to trash talk any and every opponent he faced as a member of the Fab Five or Indiana Pacers, into a successful media career that has seen him executive produce the acclaimed “Fab Five” 30 for 30 on ESPN, be a partner on the wildly popular Jalen & Jacoby ESPN podcast, be a host on NBA Countdown on ESPN and ABC and now start a new morning show with media vets Michelle Beadle and Mike Greenberg beginning next month. At no point in Rose’s basketball or early media career did anybody who witnessed it ever consider him ever being the face of NBA coverage on the Worldwide Leader. Jalen Rose in all his Detroit-raised splendor becoming a valued Disney employee was as unlikely as Kobe Bryant winning an Oscar. Yet, here we are.
Whether it’s LeBron taking the Oprah approach to becoming a billionaire by executive producing everything he’s on, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, or Kobe Bryant creating an Oscar winning animated short film, the athlete media takeover is in full effect. It makes sense. Athletes must approach their craft with a rigorous, almost insane mindset that can only be matched by a work ethic. Also, athletes are required to embark on their respective athletic careers with a level of delusion that allows them to think that they will beat the odds to become the 1% of people in the world who are paid large amounts of money to play their sports at the highest level. That line of thinking is embedded. It cannot be shut off, which is why these creative beings are starting to branch out successfully into the world of media. This is the same exact approach that doesn’t allow them to “Just play” or “Shut Up and Dribble.” Athletes mean more to the fabric of society than their ability to score points, and their foray into our living rooms after their careers are over is proving that to be correct.