The Rise brings out new Kobe Bryant details about his youth
A favorite passage in The Rise – Kobe Bryant and the pursuit of immortality. Kobe was living in Italy where his father played professional basketball, after Philly Hoops impresario Sonny Hill told Joe Bryant to consider trying out Europe with his NBA days over.
There’s a big scene, Kobe’s mom out for a morning jog, how a motorist would roll down a window and call her name, how she would casually turn her head and shout a simple expletive, universally understood.
Kobe was around his dad’s games, grabbing a mop to wipe the court during games. Once Kobe made a deal with the team owner. He wore a sweatshirt advertising the owner’s business… But you have to buy me a red bike.
All there, so soon, adapting the artistry of the father, the intensity of the mother, the emergent mentality of Mamba, demanding that a coach ask his teammates to pass the ball to him, understanding that it was, in fact, the way to win. Then the family returned to Philadelphia, and in the summer of 1992 Bryant played one level in the Sonny Hill League.
Without score, for the summer.
“Not a meaningless escape into an eruption, not a wing-and-prayer jumper, nothing. He had shamed his father and his uncle, and he briefly considered not playing basketball anymore and concentrating on football… But instead, he devoted himself to basketball again…”
» READ MORE: The sides of a Kobe Bryant teenager that few have seen | Mike Sielsky
Tell me things I don’t know. It’s a basic hurdle to jump in journalism, in any form. You need to add perspective and good phrases – you want the conversation to be sky high. Start by telling me things I don’t know.
A high bar to cross when writing in this city about Kobe Bryant’s early years. Stories were told. I never covered Kobe, but I was in a corner of the Palestra when Lower Merion faced Coatesville in the playoffs and took a field trip for a Central League game with some friends. Go see Kobe was the only item on the agenda.
So when Inquirer columnist Mike Sielski took on the task of writing this now-out book, there was no doubt the bar was set high.
The achievement: masterful.
I would say that if Sielski hadn’t been my good friend for several decades. I would write this about an author I had never heard of, if that was the outcome, which is why it is necessary to write about a colleague. Such an important piece of local history, Kobe history.
This is Kobe at Bala Cynwyd Middle School, a coach determined to do anything for the team, the whole team. “That, Kobe could not bear. He fired quickly once. [George] Smith benched him. He fired again quickly. Smith benched him again. He pouted and grimaced every time he left the courtroom, making such a petulant display that his father, to calm him down, whispered something in his ear in Italian.
So Kobe was a bad teammate? No no no. His future high school coach skillfully handled everything, bringing the eighth-grader to train with the high school team. The book goes to the heart of how Kobe then led Lower Merion to a state title, how he found a teammate ready to enter the gym before school, teammate rebounding, Kobe shooting. At school, “one of the defining paradoxes of Kobe’s entire life. He could tell, and he couldn’t tell. The examples are all there, classmates and teachers.
The recruiting stories are all there, from La Salle hoping against hope that Joe Bryant working as an assistant would lead the son to 20th and Olney. It was never going to happen. The book explains why.
A Villanova assistant coach, Paul Hewitt, allowed himself the dream of bringing Kobe with the same class that included the very talented Tim Thomas and others. Kobe did not rule out the idea. Hewitt brought in Jonathan Haynes, then Villanova’s starting point guard, to watch Kobe practice. Kobe was transcendent. It will happen, Hewitt thought.
“What’s so funny?” Hewitt asked Haynes, mocking him afterwards.
“Coach, you have no chance of getting this guy.”
“What do you mean?”
“Coach, this guy is not going to college. He goes straight to the NBA.
Preview at first sight. Everything is here. The big duels with Donnie Carr, the battles won and lost with Chester High, how the Clippers once brought all-state grad Zain Shaw back from West Virginia University to emulate Kobe in practice.
In-depth interviews with Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer and former Inquirer sports stringer Jeremy Treatman tapped the Aces staff to handle all the hype of Bryant’s senior year. Treatman then interviewed Kobe at length. These interviews are in this book.
Maybe all of this is saying too much, or maybe not enough. Sielski captures it all, including a time when Kobe went to his dad’s practice in Italy, grabbed a basketball and started dribbling while the coach was talking to the team.
“Kobe, stay seated.”
How did the child react? With the same swear word her mother used for a motorist calling a cat. It’s all there, and immediately put into context, Sielski always seeking the higher ground required, finding it.