Using a dead Kobe Bryant as a symbol of LA sports culture is very late-stage capitalism

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The Los Angeles Dodgers pulled out all the stops for their Shohei Ohtani pitch. That included bringing back Kobe Bryant from the dead.

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According to a report from ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the late Lakers Hall of Famer made a key video appearance during the Dodgers’ presentation to Ohtani, telling the Angels dual-threat star that “there’s no better place in the world to win than Los Angeles, and there’s no better team in baseball to win with than the Dodgers.”

Bryant recorded the video as a favor to the team back in 2017, when the Dodgers were preparing a recruitment plan for the then-Nippon Professional Baseball transfer.

“That was one of the highlights of the whole meeting,” Ohtani told ESPN through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “I was really surprised to see it. It was a strong and touching message.”

This isn’t, I don’t know, macabre to anyone else? Kobe Bryant has left a complicated legacy behind since his death in a January 2020 helicopter crash. It seems the five-time NBA Champion is only remembered in flowery memories and rose-tinted anecdotes: Loving father, wise mentor, the ultimate competitor; those are the only ways you can describe Bryant. But we know that’s not the case.

This pitch just took things to another level. Whatever humanity and identity Bryant had left posthumously has been stripped from him. He has just become this simulacrum for Los Angeles sports culture and marketing. If the Dodgers hadn’t already recorded this six years ago, it feels like the kind of video that would have been made with AI.

Hell, it was weird when Bryant recorded it in 2017. It’s always odd when athletes from other sports get involved in the star recruitment. The year before the Dodgers had Bryant record that video, Tom Brady got involved in the Boston Celtics’ recruitment of Kevin Durant. Brady’s involvement in the pitch is actually what swayed Durant to eventually join the Golden State Warriors. A shared city does not dictate culture. Involving other players is just an advertising tactic distracting from the team-specific details that really matter.

Bryant’s video obviously wasn’t the only factor in Ohtani’s decision to sign with the Dodgers. No other team in baseball could offer him the record-setting $700 million contract. Los Angeles’ roster does offer Ohtani the best chance to win a ring by virtue of pure talent. Just let Bryant rest. 

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