A Momentary Lapse: What to Make of Kobe Bryant’s Newest Commercial

To give new readers a glimpse of my style and to give this new site an early push, I am re-publishing articles from my previous sports blog. Here is my take on Kobe Bryant’s Call of Duty commercial:

A little over one week ago, on November 8, video game developer/publisher Activision released another installment in its longstanding military combat series, “Call of Duty.” The latest rendition, “Call of Duty:  Black Ops,” set a single-day sales record by selling more than 5.6 million copies, which gave Activision more than $360 million. While those record-setting numbers are incredibly impressive, and while I have heard from numerous sources that the game is amazing, I mention this particular video game for another reason:  its television commercial.

As you can see, this one-minute spot, officially dubbed “There’s a Soldier in All of Us,” features several “ordinary” citizens–a young lady in high heels, a chunky girl with glasses, a construction worker, and a fast-food employee, to name a few–taking their shots (no pun intended) at being a soldier in battle. But it also features two prominent celebrities one prominent sports icon and a talentless celebrity, Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Kimmel, respectively, bearing arms and wreaking havoc.

At the 0:28 mark in the video, Bryant points and fires several rounds of what looks like an Uzi. The commercial cuts to several other combatants and, seconds later, returns to Kobe, who flashes a smile and then whips out what looks like a grenade launcher labeled “Mamba.” When I first saw the commercial, I thought it was awesome. The first thing that stands out is the music selection; The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” provides an incredible backdrop to the action. Simply put, the pairing of the music and action is perfect.

The second thing that I love about the commercial is the originality/creativity. It is clear that the producers had a message/theme in mind; that is, the game is fit for everyone. And they successfully communicate that message by using caricatures of common folk in place of soldiers in the heat of action. Can you think of a video game that has/had a commercial as creative as this? I certainly cannot.

After the first time that I saw the commercial, I did not think of it for another two weeks or so until today when I read this article by ESPN.com columnist Tim Keown, who asserts that Kobe’s participation in the commercial was an ill-advised decision.  His stance is not what that is difficult to imagine; Keown believes that Bryant is a global icon that kids everywhere, especially those in inner cities where violence is rampant, idolize. And by wielding an Uzi and a rocket launcher, Bryant subtly/indirectly condones violence and guns.

While Keown mainly addresses the moral implications of Kobe’s involvement in the “Call of Duty” campaign, I would like to touch on something that is more sports- and athlete-related. Specifically, I am very shocked that Kobe chose to participate in the way that he did. I have heard the possible justifications for his role-play, but I do not think that the ends justify the means. In other words, I do not think that Kobe’s furtherance of his military support, as demonstrated through his participation in this game’s campaign, justified the association between Kobe and guns/violence that the imagery produced.

What is most startling, however, is that Kobe Bryant was the one who did this. It wasn’t Gilbert Arenas or Delonte West, who both have well-known run-ins with the law for gun possession. It was Kobe Bryant, the best player on the planet, the five-time NBA Champion, and, most importantly, the most self-aware and image-obsessed athlete not named Alex Rodriguez or LeBron James. Ever since his infamous night in Eagle, Colorado, the Los Angeles Lakers star has meticulously crafted every centimeter of his public image. Kobe went from a selfish, point-hoarding star to a selfless, team-oriented leader. He went from being publicly ripped by head coach Phil Jackson to having a very close relationship with the Zen Master today. He went from being a young, immature and shortsighted athlete to a wise, grounded family man who has his two daughters by his side for every post-game interview. He even changed his jersey number a few years back. All of these aforementioned things were Kobe’s efforts to turn a new leaf in his career, to become a new man and be everything that the fans and media have wanted him to be for so long. And after years of hard work, he finally achieved it. Fans may never forget the Eagle, Colorado, incident or Kobe’s early disruptive years, but his lasting legacy will be a guy who managed to change his on and off-court personas to both his own and his team’s benefit, which ultimately resulted in, at least, a handful of titles.

And after all that, Kobe decides to “pack some heat” and make a cameo in this “Call of Duty” commercial? It’s a questionable decision at the very least. Look, I’m not saying this commercial will be the downfall of Kobe Bryant and his legacy. It most likely will not be. But all I’m saying is that the choice seems a bit out of the ordinary considering the player/man at hand. Regardless of how cool the commercial turned out, how great the game sold or continues to sell, or how brief Kobe’s appearance actually was, something just doesn’t seem right.

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