Byrant published ‘Dear Basketball’ in The Player’s Tribune. He used it to announce his retirement in November of 2015. It was later used in his 2017 short animated film by the same name. The film was written and narrated by Bryant and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 90th Academy Awards.
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Summary of Dear Basketball
The letter, which is in the form of a poem, separated into stanzas, takes the reader through Bryant’s emotional connection to the game. He describes what it was like to find it as a child and then to work hard to do the sport justice. His love for basketball shines through in every line of ‘Dear Basketball.’ The poem/letter then concludes with Bryant announcing his retirement.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of Dear Basketball
‘Dear Basketball’ by Kobe Bryant is a nine-stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. These range in length from one single line up to seven. No rhyme scheme unifies this poem, nor is there a metrical pattern. The poem is written in free verse, with all stanzas focused on Kobe Bryant’s love for basketball.
Literary Devices in Dear Basketball
Bryant makes use of several literary devices in ‘Dear Basketball’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, sibilance, and personification. The last of these, personification, occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. In this case, the game of basketball is personified. It asks Bryant to work hard and give it his “hustle”.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “Game-winning” and “Great” in the first stanza and “love” and “longer” in the third line of the seventh stanza. Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are several examples in this poem, for instance, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza and lines one, two, and three of the sixth stanza.
Sibilance is similar to alliteration but it is concerned with soft vowel sounds such as “s” and “th”. This kind of repetition usually results in a prolonged hissing or rushing sound. It is often used to mimic another sound, like water, wind, or any kind of fluid movement. For example, “spirit” and “soul” in the third stanza and “socks” and “seconds” in the ninth stanza.
Analysis of Dear Basketball
Stanzas One and Two
I knew one thing was real:
I fell in love with you.
In the first stanzas of ‘Dear Basketball’ the speaker, Kobe Bryant, begins by describing his initial introduction to the game and his burgeoning love for it. He knew, “From the moment” that he started putting on his “dad’s tube socks” and shooting “imaginary / Game-winning shots” that he was going to love the sport.
A reader will immediately notice in the second stanza, which is only one line, that the poem is directed to the game. This is a technique known as an apostrophe. An apostrophe is an arrangement of words addressing someone, something, or creature, that does not exist, or is not present, in the poem’s immediate setting. The intended listener is spoken to as if they can hear and understand the speaker’s words even if they aren’t alive, real, or capable of the feat.
Stanzas Three and Four
A love so deep I gave you my all —
I only saw myself
Running out of one.
In the next two stanzas, Bryant goes on, reemphasizing the love he feels for the game and how he dedicated himself to playing it well, “spirit & soul”. The fourth stanza presents the reader with an example of a metaphor. He describes how, as a young child, he never saw the “end of the tunnel,” or the time at which he’d stop play. (This might also be taken as an allusion to death.) Rather, his pursuit of the game always felt like “Running out of” a tunnel into the light.
Stanzas Five and Six
And so I ran.
I ran up and down every court
When someone makes you feel as
Alive as you’ve made me feel.
In the fifth and sixth stanzas of ‘Dear Basketball,’ Bryant uses repetition to inform the reader the he “ran”. This word stands in as a pursuit of the speaker’s dreams as well as a direct way of informing the reader about how hard he worked to achieve them. He describes basketball as asking him for his “hustle.” Instead, he gave the sport his heart.
The speaker worked hard because he wanted to do the game justice. He wanted to show his love for the sport because that’s “what you do / When someone makes you feel as / Alive” as basketball made him feel.
Stanzas Seven and Eight
You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.
In the next stanzas of ‘Dear Basketball’ Bryant transitions into the conclusion of the poem. He informs basketball that he can’t love the sport “obsessively for much longer”. “This season is all I have left to give,” he concludes. He is announcing his retirement in these lines, to the sport as well as to his fans. It is his body that tells him that its “time to say goodbye”. Even if his “heart” and “mind” could take the “pounding” and the “grind”.
He’s ready to let the sport go, despite what it gave him.
And we both know, no matter what I do next
I’ll always be that kid
:05 seconds on the clock
Ball in my hands.
5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1
Bryant concludes the poem by referencing the image he created in the first stanza of himself as a child. Even though time has passed “we both know,” he says, that he’ll always “be that kid”. The poem ends with a count down, “:05 seconds on the clock” and Bryant signing the letter with “Love you always, / Kobe”.