Kobe Bryant is the Black Mamba

“Product placement gives us a bigger budget. Bigger budget, bigger explosions.”

On February 19th, Kobe Bryant became the first athlete to have his hand and footprints set in concrete at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Releasing the same day was Kobe Bryant is the Black Mamba, Bryant’s six minute Nike commercial and collaboration with director Robert Rodriguez. Is it worth watching? Yes.

In fact, since the film is structured so that every step of the way is a surprise, I recommend you go watch it before reading this article (we’ve embedded it at the end of this article). There are spoilers from here on out.

Robert Rodriguez is the perfect director for a project like this. He’s known for quirky genre films, and he’s a master of incorporating digital video and FX work into his movies. Black Mamba is quite quirky, shot on digital and uses a lot of FX.

The film opens up with a story outside of the story. Robert Rodriguez meets Kobe Bryant to pitch him an idea for a short film about Black Mamba. As they describe it, we cut to the film proper. They keep talking and adding new elements—now Black Mamba has to fight the Crippler, now he has to meet with Mr. Suave, the henchman for the Boss, and so on like that.

This narration-outside-the-story is a stroke of genius, and it manages to elevate the whole project above being a simple, if expensive, shoe commercial.

For one, it instantly legitimizes what is essentially a vanity film for Bryant and Nike. Through the story-outside-the-story, Rodriguez explains that the commercial aspect of the movie isn’t a bad thing. The product placement is just a necessary evil to make a really cool short film. It’s patronage of the arts, basically.

The story-outside-the-story also lets the movie introduce bizarre elements like Danny Trejo’s the Crippler without it feeling too abrupt, and the narration sets up funny reveals, like Bryant’s bus exploding, or Trejo’s Jack Russell hostage.

Because of the meta-narrative, Rodriguez can cast stars like Danny Trejo, Bruce Willis and Kanye West and still make the movie feel like a fun fantasy between Bryant and Rodriguez, rather than something crass or commercial.

No one seems to be slumming here, or just picking up a paycheque. There’s a sense of real fun, just Bryant and Rodriguez dreaming up the coolest shoe commercial ever.

In fact, with Rodriguez’s involvement, the movie becomes a Rodriguez film, and the fantastical excesses seem par for the course. When Rodriguez directs a movie, you don’t bat an eye when Danny Trejo leaps out at Bryant with enormous prosthetic claws.

And it’s also a surprisingly well-crafted film. The six minute time frame means the film has an extremely tight structure, and it’s amazing how much material they manage to cram into that small run time. The best part is how so little of it feels like a commercial.

By the time Bryant is playing against Kanye West’s growling, hissing evil players, you feel the giddiness of it all, and really get the sense that yes, this is Robert Rodriguez and Kobe Bryant using Nike’s money to make something really cool.
It no longer feels like a Nike commercial; it just feels like another
one of Rodriguez’s genre films, a neat little collaboration with Bryant,
Willis and West. 
 And if Nike is setting itself up as a patron of this kind of sharply made short film, well, I think that does more for their image than a thousand traditional shoe commercials.


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