Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant

Veteran sportswriter and book author Roland Lazenby wrote this Kobe Bryant biography in 2016. This was after Kobe’s NBA career ended and before he died. In my edition however, there is also a small obituary by the author in the back. It was added a few weeks after Kobe’s death.

Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant

“Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant” is the first book on this blog that I have read in German, which is my native language. And in doing so, I realized why I otherwise prefer to read books about the NBA in the original language. As a basketball fan, you notice at one point or another that the translator has little or no idea about basketball and uses terms that sometimes make you wonder. But that is not so important here. Even though they may have translated some words incorrectly, the content is the same. “Showboat” is a nickname Shaquille O’Neal gave Kobe during their time together with the Lakers. A nickname Kobe didn’t like at all.

Focus on Kobe’s childhood

Showboat is more or less a typical biography, but there are some quite interesting differences. In many other biographies, the life before the career (childhood, beginnings in sports, …) is treated rather briefly. The focus is clearly on the professional career. Here it is almost the other way around. The book even starts before Kobe’s birth – with the story of his father.

Joe Bryant – nicknamed Jellybean – also played in the NBA for a number of years in the 1970s and 1980s. Most notable was his time with the 76ers in his hometown of Philadelphia. I found this part of the book interesting to read. I was aware that Joe Bryant was also an NBA pro. However I didn’t know much more about him beforehand. The author describes him here almost as a mythical figure of sorts. As a player who was way ahead of his time. Although he had the size of a center, he played more like a guard, bringing the ball up  and shooting from outside. What is no longer a big surprise in today’s NBA was probably too much of a good thing for some people back then.

Later, Joe Bryant played professionally for several years in Italy, where Kobe and his sisters grew up. Here the focus of the book shifts more and more to Kobe. He is described as a very strong-willed, ambitious and self-confident (some would say arrogant) player even as a child. He would spend hours with his father studying videotapes of NBA players such as Magic Johnson. And would also practice against his father 1-on-1. After the Bryants returned to the U.S., Kobe was considered a bit of an outsider due to his childhood in Europe, and somewhat of a stranger in his own country. He was not to really shed his outsider status during his professional career.

A sometimes troubling but successful time with the Lakers

As far as Kobe’s professional career is concerned, the focus is on his first years with the Lakers. The problems with Shaq and Phil Jackson, who nevertheless managed to win three titles together, and the messy stories from his private life (rape allegations and the long trial, a problematic relationship  with his own family). Even for someone who followed the NBA back then, it was surprising to read how bad the relationship was between Kobe and the rest of the team and especially with coach Phil Jackson. In retrospect, it’s hard to understand how Kobe and Jackson were able to get back together and win more titles after the coach returned to the Lakers.

Lazenby describes the second part of Kobe’s career rather quickly. I had the feeling that the publisher set Lazenby a limit to the number of pages. So he had to make it rather short. The two titles together with Pau Gasol, the end of an era against the Mavs in 2011, the Achilles tendon rupture, the difficult last years and the 60 points in the last game of his career read well in one go.

However, I thought the focus on Kobe’s childhood and youth, his beginnings in basketball, and his early NBA years was right on for a Kobe Bryant biography. With a person like Kobe Bryant, there’s not much left to read about regarding his active playing career that you haven’t already read somewhere. And if the focus had been on that, it might have been more of a dry stringing together of facts. I find the question “How did Kobe become Kobe?” much more interesting.

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