Friday, 18 November 2016
By TIM DAVID HARVEY
In his NBA lifetime the greatest of all-time Michael Jordan wore the number 23. The closest player to him and his greatness Kobe Bryant, 24. Kobe won five titles with his Los Angeles Lakers. Mike won six as a Chicago Bull. As a matter of fact there's little much else between the two retired, legendary 6'6, two hundred and something in the tens pound guards. Both have a legendary line of Nike sneakers that keep stepping out even after they've hung them up. Both men were coached by Phil Jackson and have played with legends like Dennis Rodman and Ron Harper. Both men have won Slam Dunk Contests but also knew how to step back and hit the iconic fadeaway. Both men have a magazine cover pin-up smile but a hero killing villain death stare when everything is flipped. Both men speak in tongues, shrugs and shooting for the heart. One-on-one you've never seen two players as competitive. And now Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have both got biography bestsellers on the bookshelves thanks to basketball writer Roland Lazenby. The legend who was once most famous for his book on the NBA logo Jerry West, rewrote what was considered his definitive and most iconic read when he gave us 'The Life' of Michael Jordan in 2014. And now he looks to go better once again with number 24 as his book on Kobe Bryant 'Showboat' is sailing through Kindles and coffee tables as we turn. We caught up with Lazenby once again inbetween reads and what seems like a life that will always write to talk about his latest muse Kobe Bryant and the book about him that has come just a year removed from his last one and some months after the player himself retired. Because after all the show must go on...
Q. Hey Roland! Great to catch up with you again. Congratulations on all your success with your last book 'The Life'. After writing about Michael Jordan was Kobe Bryant always the next logical progression for you?
No, I looked at an array of options, as I always do. Ultimately, the decision is made by what the publisher will buy.
Q. How did the reception and success of writing about Mike inspire and motivate you to write about Kobe?
Well, confidence is big in any endeavour. You would think at my age that confidence is never an issue. But I’ve discovered that being in my 60s is much like being an adolescent. I love doing biography, and if you’re going to do that much work, it sure helps to have success.
Q. What was the starting point for your account of the life of Kobe Bryant mere months after he retired?
I always try to go for what I consider the revelatory moments. Showboat, the book on Kobe, actually began in three different places. An overview beginning after his first basket. An emotional moment following his second championship. A pivotal moment in the career of his father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant.
Q. Can you tell our readers more about the name of your Bryant book 'Showboat'? It was an old nickname that Shaq gave him right?
Yes, and it was a lineage he shared with his father, a great showboat player off the playgrounds of Philadelphia. The showboat elements of the game have always been at odds with the purists. But the dunk and other fancy elements have always thrilled fans, i.e. the Globetrotters. Sports stories are often a father/son romance, and this one is about that thing they shared, the love of showboating.
Q. You begin this book beautifully with looking at the career of Kobe's father Joe 'Jellybean' Bryant and his sons upbringing in Italy. How important are these themes in setting the tone of the text?
They define, in many ways, everything about how Kobe approached the game. Ultimately, he grew to become very much his own man. He defined that by making up a nickname and an identity for himself, Mamba, the killer snake.
Q. And with Kobe's purple and gold glory days with the Lakers how much did researching and writing about this take you back to your times sideline reporting with the Lakers?
So much of it did take me back. The Lakers are an amazing story as Hollywood’s franchise. I’ve spent much of my life exploring all of the elements of the Lakers story, and that began years before Kobe arrived there. Every book I do allows me to learn more and more about the Lakers. It’s not a simple story, as you might assume.
Q. How difficult but important was it to ask and talk about not only the accomplishments but the controversies of Kobe's life and career?
That’s always the difficult part of these books, the family and personal stories are always immensely complicated. And that raises questions about what should be reported. Some of it should be reported, because invariably I find that it raises my estimation and understanding of the person and his family. At the same time, I always look for limits. For example, as I rule I don’t write about a person’s sex life, unless it becomes a controversy and part of the public record. Even then, I don’t get into detail, because one’s love life is a private, private matter. I also think of my own family as I write biography. My parents were quiet, everyday people, but our ancestors were quite the rowdy bunch. Every family has its difficulties and conflicts and disagreements. I write about those to some degree because it often reveals the character or personality of the figure I’m writing about.
Q. Just like your book on M.J. this story is rooted in family how do the two books and players compare and contrast in this and how as a writer do you get to the core feeling of this?
Well, MJ is such a global iconic figure, the long story of his family is essential to understanding him. I don’t go into quite the depth of background with Kobe, because the big issue with him was his father as a pro player, the experiences for the family that created, etc.
Q. Which journalists and player peers were the most helpful and insightful in your look into the life of the Laker legend?
Gosh, quite an array of people offered different insights, journalists such as Shelley Smith of ESPN who covered him during the rape charges, or well-known basketball writer Howard Beck, who got to know Kobe as a young guy and had a great affinity for him. Rudy Garciduenas, the Lakers longtime equipment manager, was close to both Shaq and Kobe and offered tremendous understanding of both men, of the dynamic in the Lakers locker room over the years, and the personality of the franchise itself, from Jerry West to Jeanie Buss to Phil Jackson.
Q. You really draw us in to particular moments vividly. One being the preface standout of a championship cap wearing Kobe sitting in the Philadelphia visitors locker room alone and forlorn after winning his second NBA title. What can you tell us about this moment?
On the eve of the playoffs he had thrown his family out of his life in a dramatic move. Once he won the championship, the emotion of his actions and the conflict came flooding in all at once.
Q. Can you tell us how 'Showboat' differs to your other books on Kobe Bryant including 'Mad Game' now his career is said and done?
I wrote Mad Game in 1999. It was about Kobe’s adjustment to the NBA. Showboat is his full life and a full effort at understanding all the factors that have gone in to making Bryant the competitor and person that he is. Showboat reflects much greater understanding on my part because of how much I’ve learned in writing biography.
Q. In completing this story how has Kobe's farewell season and final game drawn a line under his basketball story and career arc?
His final game emphasized the title of the book. It was utterly a Showboat moment.
Q. Before Jordan you where known for writing the book on the logo Jerry West. A legend instrumental in bringing Kobe to L.A. How do the two books and players compare and which icon in your opinion is the greatest Laker?
Well, West teamed with the great Elgin Baylor to popularize the Lakers, a new team in LA in 1960, and over the next 14 years made them legendary. West then went on as GM to define the franchise in terms of his fanatical leadership and personality. He cared deeply, and the franchise benefited from his insane pursuit of perfection. Kobe’s story is about Kobe. He now has an opportunity to make it about more than himself. And he may just do that. West himself was quite self-focused as a player, too.
Q. After your biography 'The Life and Legend Of A Basketball Icon', Jerry West wrote his own autobiography. Are you hoping the same happens for number 23 and 24's memoirs?
Yes, that would be great. Biography has tremendous importance, I believe, as an independent look at sports/cultural figures. It’s important that it be independent because these wealthy figures long to control their own narratives. However, their own books are immensely important because they offer different levels of information and sometimes truth.
Q. Two classic books in the last couple of years you sure deserve a rest, but what's next? Maybe an appointment with the King?
I’m taking a long break. My wife just retired and we’re going to enjoy life a bit. Then I’ll start thinking about the next project.
Roland we thank you for your time. We really appreciate it. We wish you all the best for the future. Thanks again.