BY AMY KAUFMAN
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS
LOS ANGELES – The ballroom was stuffed with Hollywood’s elite: Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan. But it was an athlete who literally — at 6’6” — stood out in the crowd at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Oscar nominees luncheon on Monday: Kobe Bryant.
Why, might you ask, was the former Los Angeles Lakers star mingling with the stars of “Get Out” and “Lady Bird?” The 39-year-old produced and wrote an animated short, “Dear Basketball,” that’s up for a coveted golden statue next month.
As a result, Bryant scored an invite to the annual gathering that honors each and every Oscar nominee — from the sound mixers on “Baby Driver” to veterans such as Streep, who will be in contention for the 21st time March 4.
The highlight of the luncheon tends to be the class photo, during which Laura Dern — governor of the Academy’s actors branch — this year introduced the 170 nominees who showed up to pose on bleachers alongside a life-size Oscar.
The roll-call took about 30 minutes to complete, leaving women on the top row such as Mary J. Blige, Greta Gerwig and Octavia Spencer to teeter in their high heels for longer than most would prefer.
Bryant, meanwhile, scored one of the sought-after seats in the front row, where his height presented no issue.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m a Los Angeles native,” Dern said, clearly starstruck as she called the basketball player to his spot.
When it was announced Jan. 23 that Bryant had received an Oscar nod, the news stirred up some controversy online, with many on social media calling out the fact that the athlete had been accused of rape in 2003. (The charges against him were later dropped.) Not that anyone at the Hilton seemed distracted by those headlines.
After the official class photo was taken — snapped by cameras on the ceiling — Bryant was asked to pose for a handful of other photos with selfie-seekers.
Timothee Chalamet, the 22-year-old star of “Call Me By Your Name,” posted a shot to his Instagram account with his mouth agape as Bryant flashed a peace sign in the background: “KOOOBE !!!!” his excited caption read.