By Laura Latzko
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
WAround the world, Kobe Bryant is known as the basketball player who helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA championships with his 33,000 points.
Many also remember his unexpected death on January 26, 2020, at age 41, in a helicopter crash.
There was more to the Black Mamba than his NBA career. In his book “The Rise: Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality”, Mike Sielski explores the beginnings of the athlete.
As part of Vroman’s Bookstore Live Virtual Series, Sielski will discuss his new book on Thursday, January 20, in conversation with John Gonzalez.
The writer also hosts a 12-part podcast titled “I Am Kobe.”
Sielski, award-winning sports columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, who covered the 2001 NBA Finals between the Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers.
“I grew up in the Philadelphia area,” Sielski said.
“I’ve lived in the Philadelphia area for most of my life. The history of Kobe’s ties to the region is fairly well known to those of us here, but I thought it wasn’t as well known to people across the country. … I thought there might be value in building the book around that.
In his book, Sielski shares Bryant’s time at Lower Merion High School in Italy and his return to Pennsylvania. He led his high school team to a state championship in 1996.
It also covers Bryant’s impact on the community – during his life and after his death.
During his research, Sielski was struck by Bryant’s motivation in eighth and ninth grades.
“I don’t think I really enjoyed it until I started digging into his life like that,” said Sielski, who took a year to write the book.
“He had this plan. He had it in him. He was prepared in some ways for this. He wanted it so badly at such a young age and knew he could do it.
For his book, Sielski used audio tapes and transcripts from Jeremy Treatman, a journalist and commentator close to Bryant, about whom he planned to write a book in the 1990s.
The author received the strips from Treatman in December 2020, ahead of its March 2021 deadline.
Sielski said he was a good fit for the book because he could look at his life with purpose. Treatman and Gregg Downer, Bryant’s high school coach, were encouraging.
“They knew Kobe well, and other people said similar things who knew Kobe at the time: ‘We were looking for the right person to tell the story in the right way’ – honestly and accurately,” recalls- he.
“I don’t want to speak for Jeremy, but for his part I think it was just a matter of timing. It almost worked in the late 90s. It didn’t. He has been very successful in doing other things in his life. This is your chance to get the story told.
Sielski used a variety of sources in his research, including high school newspapers, gaming videos, socially distanced in-person interviews, and archives from the Philadelphia Tribune and Bulletin. He worked closely with the Lower Merion Historical Society.
“It was so enjoyable and so educational for me to be able to dive into the other aspects of the history of this community, the conflicts there, all the things that helped inform how people viewed Kobe and how they reacted to him when he came on the scene there,” Sielski said.
“I wanted the setting to be almost a character in the story, no matter where that setting was, whether we were talking about Lower Merion, whether we were talking about the actual city of Philadelphia and its basketball history, whether we We were talking about a chapter we are spending in Italy with Kobe and his family there.
Sielski said he wanted to give readers a sense of Bryant’s life, especially at Lower Merion High School, even outside of basketball.
“I wanted to talk to people who knew him outside of basketball, who weren’t on the team,” Sielski said.
“I don’t know if anyone knew that. He was involved with the Student Voice organization, the Black Student Union of Lower Merion.
“I was able to talk to a number of his girlfriends and classmates, who could talk about certain aspects of him that no one really talked to before. They could talk about how he struggled with his sense of identity, being a black teenager in the early to mid-1990s who had lived in Europe for most of his youth and only returned to the States United permanently only when he was in eighth grade, at the age of 13.
He did not find that most black students in the Lower Merion School District did not share the same experiences as white students.
“It was really important to me, to give people a glimpse of his social and academic existence at the time,” Sielski said.
He hopes to share information about Bryant’s life that even longtime fans might not know.
“I wanted to try to take people with Kobe where they’ve never been before, if I could,” he said.
“How does it feel when he gives an oral presentation in English class? His relationship with his favorite English teacher. This kind of things. I wanted it to be an intimate book, in that regard.
The book gives a better insight into the early relationships between the basketball player, his siblings Sharia and Shaya, his mother Pam, and his father, Joe, a former basketball player.
“(Bryant and his dad) were so, so close when he was young and throughout his high school career,” he said. “You can see some things in Joe’s youth and some of the things he’s been going through. Kobe has so much of his mother, Pam, in him too, the Catholic upbringing, the focus on education, some of his Personality Traits He was really a mix of his parents.
Mike Sielski will speak in conversation with John Gonzalez
WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday, January 20
OR: Zoom into Vroman’s bookstore
COST: To free; registration required
INFORMATION: 626-449-5320, vromansbookstore.com