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Kobe Bryant Inks Sports Illustrated Deal for ‘Dear Basketball’ Animated Film

Short to be directed by Glen Keane, with music by John Williams

Retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant will turn his love poem to hoops, “Dear Basketball,” into a short animated film and a related series of projects to be distributed exclusively on Sports Illustrated digital properties.

The L.A. Lakers great last November posted his retirement poem, “Dear Basketball,” on the Players’ Tribune, the Derek Jeter-backed media startup that gives athletes an “unfiltered” forum. The Players’ Tribune will also help promote the film project on SI.

The “Dear Basketball” short will be narrated by Bryant and directed by Glen Keane, the animator who has worked on such classic films as “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Tangled.” John Williams, the five-time Oscar-winning composer whose credits include “Star Wars,” “Jaws,” the “Indiana Jones” series, “E.T.,” “Jurassic Park” and the “Harry Potter” films, will write the score for the animated ode to basketball.

The deal was cut by Time Inc.’s Sports Illustrated Group with Bryant’s new production company, Kobe Studios, along with production company Believe Entertainment Group. The collaboration includes the premiere of the “Dear Basketball” short film on SI.com slate for the fall of 2016, as well as a series of exclusive SI Films productions taking viewers behind the scenes of the animation process.

“’Dear Basketball’ is the perfect tribute to something I’ve loved for so long. Glen and John are two legends in their industries, so to partner with them on the creative process is a dream come true,” Bryant said in a prepared statement. “Working with Sports Illustrated on this special project is an amazing opportunity to hopefully inspire fans all over the world.”

Time Inc. announced the Bryant pact at its Digital Content NewFronts event Thursday in New York, where it also unveiled plans to launch the People and Entertainment Weekly Network over-the-top free streaming service and other new initiatives.

As part of the deal, Bryant gave exclusive access to Sports Illustrated for the project, speaking about what “Dear Basketball” means to him and how came together. The “Dear Basketball” collaboration will include video, text and interviews with Bryant and other key players across SI Group platforms along with the animated short to stream on SI.com.

“We are proud to collaborate with Kobe to tell the comprehensive story of his first venture of his post-NBA career,” said Rich Battista, president of Time Inc.’s entertainment and sports group and video. “We are excited for his fans and the global community of sport, music, entertainment and art enthusiasts to experience these productions.”

Added Dan Goodman, co-founder of Believe Entertainment, “We’re honored to partner with Sports Illustrated for the launch of this amazing animated short film and to work with them on a making of series that will reach a global audience across its platforms. The chance to partner with Kobe at this time is an incredibly compelling business and content opportunity for Believe.”

Kobe Studios is a division of Kobe Inc., which he formed in 2013. Its first project, “Kobe Bryant’s Muse,” debuted on Showtime in February 2015 and in China last August via a partnership with Alibaba Group.

New York-based Believe Entertainment’s recent projects include “The LeBrons,” an animated web series with two-time NBA champion LeBron James on Microsoft’s Xbox Live, and “Money Where Your Mouth Is,” a game show series hosted by Jay Mohr on Hulu. The company signed an investment deal with ITV in 2014.

Ken Kleinberg, senior partner at Kleinberg Lange Cuddy & Carlo, negotiated the deal on behalf of Keane for the Kobe Bryant film.

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