"Kobe Doin' Work" directed by Spike Lee

After reviewing Spike Lee's fictional basketball movie, it only made sense to follow it up with the documentary he filmed 10 years later. Understandably, a lot of a viewer's opinion on "Kobe Doin' Work" is going to be colored by the opinion of its primary subject, and as a LeBron James fan I'm naturally predisposed to be a "Kobe hater", but I tried viewing this as objectively as possible, and I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.


Score: 4.0 out of 5

Real NBA teams: Yes -- the Lakers and Spurs

Fictional NBA teams: No

Notable NBA players involved: Kobe Bryant, obviously, and the rest of the 2007-08 Lakers and Spurs.

Best basketball moment: There's one particular play in the game where Kobe gets doubled on the low block, and passes over the double to a wide open cutting Lamar Odom for an easy two. Kobe breaks down the play in his VO, and Lee slows down the video and changes angles so you can really see how it all works.

Worst basketball moment: Any time the play is developing off screen, while the direction focuses on Kobe doin' nothing.
In the final week of the 2007-08 NBA regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers hosted the San Antonio Spurs, in a game that was crucial to both the Lakers' quest to gain homecourt advantage in the Western Conference Playoffs and Kobe Bryant's push for the MVP award. Director Spike Lee uses 30 unique cameras to film Bryant in action, including in the locker room before, during and after the game, giving the viewer an inside look at one of the NBA's best players "doin' work."

As the game unfolds, Bryant and Lee provide a voiceover narrative, giving further insight into what we're seeing on the screen. The Spurs jump out to an early lead, the Lakers storm back, then after a halftime tie, LA pulls ahead, allowing Bryant to sit the fourth quarter, during which time he and Lee discuss multiple topics, including this game, the 2008 Finals and Bryant's 2009 performance at Madison Square Garden in which he scored 61 points.


This was actually my first time seeing "Kobe Doin' Work." I missed it when it first aired on TV, and I hadn't really taken the time to seek it out, since it was focused on a regular season game that had taken place more than a season ago, but upon viewing I really see that it's not about this specific game, but about Kobe Bryant's approach to any game in general.

The movie opens with some establishing pre-game scenes involving interviews with Kobe and multiple media figures, setting up the scene for that specific game, which I think would be fine if this was a documentary about the April 13, 2008 Spurs-Lakers game or even about the 2007-08 Lakers in general, but for what it turns into later, I think they're unnecessary. I also think Kobe seemed tentative at first with his voiceover work, only interjecting minor insight at first, before eventually opening up some more.

Interestingly, Kobe's approach to his VO work mirrored his approach to this particular game. Early in this game against the Spurs, he seemed to be doing a lot of deferring, trying to get teammates involved. I remember when this first came out, a lot of the criticism focused on the fact that Kobe seemed to change his approach to both the game and his teammates for the cameras, but I think that's just an easy way of taking shots at Kobe. Yes, at times in the game he was too deferential, and at times in the VO, he's overly complimentary of his teammates (particularly when he calls Luke Walton "one of the best shooters in the league"), but he doesn't come off as overly phony at any point.
I thought the movie really shined when Kobe was giving insight that the average basketball fan wouldn't be able to pick up otherwise. The choice of opponent for this game was key, since Kobe's had so many battles with the Spurs throughout his career, and the way he talks about them -- both via the VO and the in-game microphones -- shows that level of familiarity. There are a few times when Kobe helps give Pau Gasol insight into Tim Duncan and what Duncan's tendencies are. Now, coming from the Southwest Division, Gasol had already seen plenty of Duncan, but Kobe had been battling Duncan in the playoffs for the better part of a decade, and the two players are intimately familiar with each other. It was great to get that kind of insight.

Also great was everything with Phil Jackson in the locker room, particularly after the game. It was a blowout win for the Lakers, and everyone is kind of having fun in the locker room, but Phil is just laying into Sasha Vujacic in his own calm Phil way. Neither Kobe nor Spike really addressed it in the VO, but that's the kind of coach Phil is, and its a little snippet of video like that one that shows you that Phil Jackson definitely deserves credit for his success. He didn't just "roll out the balls" for the superstars on his teams.

For the most part, Lee's direction is really good, but there are two minor filmmaking decisions that bothered me. First, when Kobe is in the game, the cameras are focused intensely on him, to the point that a lot of action happens off screen. As the game goes on, Kobe actually gets better at describing his actions in relation to what's happening with the ball off screen, but it's still annoying when it just disappears. A little picture-in-picture box to follow the play would have been helpful.

Secondly, when Kobe and Spike are talking over the footage, they're just disembodied voices. It would have been nice to, at times, see them talking and watching the footage, if only to see Kobe's reactions to Kobe. There was one moment in the game where Kobe made a defensive mistake, then nearly turned it over on the other end, and you could hear his frustration with himself in his VO, but it would have been even better to see them too.

Still, those are minor things that would have taken a four-star movie up to five stars. As it is, "Kobe Doin' Work" really exceeded my expectations, which I hope doesn't hurt my cred as a Kobe hater. I still think LeBron is better.


It's an NBA game between two outstanding teams during the heat of a playoff push, so, as expected, the level of play is outstanding. The only complaint I have regarding the filming of the action itself, as mentioned above, is when the camera stays on Kobe when the play is developing elsewhere. Also, while the closeups are incredible for a movie like this, you definitely understand why NBA games aren't broadcast this way. Still, I do wish they were all FILMED this way, so you had the opportunity to go back and watch them like this later -- like the NBA equivalent of NFL Films.


Gee, I dunno... Kobe Bryant, maybe? Actually this does end up being something of the movie equivalent of the 2007-08 Lakers. It starts slow, gets very good when it hits its stride, but it's not quite championship caliber.


Even the most devout Kobe haterz would have to admit that they'd rather sit through "Kobe Doin' Work" than suffer through the NBA lockout.


  1. Kobe is the best in the lead and I don't care about what nobody said ain't nobody out there better than the only one on the court Kobe Bryant


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