Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant is a novel that I have wanted to read for some time. During the holiday season, I finally got the chance to read Lazenby’s work and was utterly satisfied by it.
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As the title suggests, this novel is a biography of the late but great Kobe Bryant. Authored by Roland Lazenby, this novel is one of his latest projects, coming after Michael Jordan: The Life, published in 2014.
I was genuinely a great fan of Lazenby’s work on his biography of Michael Jordan, so before reading the novel, I suspected I would be a fan of the biography on Kobe. This turned out to be very accurate. Bryant’s life story is incredibly interesting. One of the things I had enjoyed reading Jordan’s biography was not only all of the details it provided but also the family’s backstory. Lazenby continued this narration to the Bryant family, but notably Joe Bryant in particular.
Although I’ve been a fan of Kobe for over the years, I’ve unfortunately only gotten to watch him over the last two seasons of his career, after he suffered the Achilles injury and never returned to the game of basketball the same. However, I certainly have watched highlights and interviews to learn more about the legend. Despite this, I was left wanting to know more about Kobe and ultimately chose to purchase this book to gain more knowledge of The Mamba’s life.
Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant starts by taking you through a sliver of Joe Bryant’s life. It’s only until roughly 60 pages in until there is the commentary provided on Kobe, and even then, Joe Bryant is the protagonist for a little longer. I never knew much about Joe Bryant or what kind of basketball player he was. Fortunately, Roland provided me this information and Joe’s love of the sport—having played on the playgrounds in Philadelphia, being noted as the Magic Johnson before Magic Johnson, which is fascinating to know.
Then, of course, you are taken through Sonny Hill and Joe’s upbringing through his league, to the point where he gets drafted by the Golden State Warriors and eventually signs with the Philadelphia 76ers. Finally, he decides to take his family and travel to Italy to continue his professional career in basketball.
All of this commentary was fresh but very enjoyable. I enjoyed reading the backstory behind Joe Bryant because he was essential to the life of Kobe and his passion for basketball. I think Roland needed to include this in the novel, and I would have been slightly disappointed if he did not include a remote part of Joe’s life in the book, now knowing the importance it serves.
Pam Cox (later to be Pam Bryant) was also talked about in the novel for obvious reasons (as she was Joe’s eventual wife), but not near in as much detail as Joe.
Of course, when the novel transitions to more of Kobe, it explains on the Bryant family growing up in Italy, such a place that the family loved outside of Philadelphia. It was here where you learned about Kobe’s growing passion for the game that Lazenby put great detail into, by ensuring to include the hours Kobe would watch NBA games featuring Magic Johnson and others, the one-on-one’s played between Joe and Kobe in the driveway, and much more. It’s a pleasure to take in the number of details and facts that Lazenby has worked to include.
Later you get to Kobe’s time playing basketball in Sonny Hill’s league and eventually for Lower Merion High School, to where you start to encounter the development of Bryant. In this part, I learned from Kobe’s high school career that he was a ferocious player but a do-it-all himself type of player. Of course, people may take this away from his legacy, but the team needed that playstyle to win the state championship in 1996.
Lazenby then takes the reader through going pro and being drafted by Charlotte, only to be traded to the Lakers in 1996 and his impact on the team with Shaquille O’Neal. Eventually, O’Neal would get traded, and Kobe would be the franchise’s face for the rest of his career, with the many ups and downs that he had endured throughout those Laker years.
Since my version of the was published in 2017, Lazenby provided no insight on Bryant’s post-retirement. During this time, he worked on various books, businesses, and of course, a short animation film that earned him an Oscar. I would have loved to read on the years after his basketball retirement, but that will have to wait for another day.
Whenever I read either of the two biographies by Lazenby, he uses many quotes, to the point where one can argue it’s a bit excessive. Quotes from people surrounding Bryant’s or Jordan’s life do serve a purpose to provide more commentary on specific events or facts, which to the point of each biography, has strengthened it, in my opinion. I certainly don’t see them as unfavorable to the book, but I understand why maybe someone else would.
In all honesty, reading Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant has taken you across Bryant’s life as if you were directly apart of it. I found myself visualizing what was presently being described by Lazenby and was not easily distracted when reading this book. Indeed, there were times where I could not put the book down and might read 50 or 60 pages in a day, which is excellent for me and especially so when this novel is nearly 600 pages. I was always engaged.
I do have some negatives to the book, particularly with the images provided by the novel. The photos are placed in the middle of the novel, rather than throughout, which I do not prefer. The images themselves were great and do support events that the novel explains, which I thought would better fit with images alongside the events.
Lazenby should have provided more information on Bryant and Jordan’s relationship. This was highlighted here and there, but I wish there were more commentary and quotes from Michael on Kobe or even vice versa. Of course, MJ was such a massive influence on Kobe and his game style, so it would have been lovely to see more of that bond, impact, and respect.
I would have to give Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant a rating of 9/10.
If there is any sports biography I want to read, particularly a basketball biography, I would most often reach one written by Lazenby. I am a big fan of his work, and he did not disappoint with this one.
But as I reflect on Kobe Bryant’s life and the novel itself, I did not realize before reading this how much adversity and struggle that he had to go through. With the beef against Shaq, the falling out with his family, with his rap group, and with divorce claims from Vanessa, among so many other things, it makes you wonder how badly this would have eaten him up. Yet, every night he gave it his all for the game he loved. Legendary. That is a tribute to his greatness that we all miss very much.
Definitely a great book to start the new year. I recommend this book heavily to basketball fans.
Feel free to leave a comment below if you’ve read the book and want to share your thoughts about it. Check out other book reviews I have done here.
Have a great year.