Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Showboat: Book review

From the much heralded author, Roland Lazenby comes the sure to be seminal text about one of the generational icons of basketball.  Lazenby has written numerous tomes and novels about the stand out performers in the NBA culminating in his biography, Michael Jordan: The Life (2014).

Lazenby's knowledge over his subject is second to none having written five dozen nonfiction books mostly about basketball and American football.  In taking on the subject of Kobe Bean Bryant, he is attempting to make sense of one of the most difficult personas in professional basketball of the last 25 years.

Kobe Bryant is one of those lightning in a bottle talents that come along once in a lifetime. Unless you compete in basketball when there are talents such as his every 10 year cycle. Before Jordan, there was Magic Johnson, before Magic there was Dr. Julis Erving, before Erving there was Wilt Chamberlain.  And after Kobe there was LeBron, and now there is Steph Curry.

Talents such as the men just mentioned are seminal, they are awe-inspiring, they are able to do things on the court not seen before and not seen since.  They rekindle your love of the game, leave you gasping for breathe and adjectives to describe wheat they achieve. And yet this talent and gift to the public is single-minded, selfless and full of sacrifices.

Lazenby makes not of this following Bryant's young life following in the footsteps of his father Joe, a talented player in his own right who left the NBA to play in Europe, primarily Italy.  This brought young Kobe into contact with players of flair and individuality but also showed him a lifestyle he did not want to replicate. Bryant wanted to be better than his father, and that meant succeeding in the NBA, a place his father could not.

Bryant, along with LeBron, was the last great player to forego the route of College Basketball and jump straight into the big time. Since LeBron, the rules have changed as the NBA and NCAA agreed that any player must complete a minimum of one year in college before declaring for the NBA draft (in football it is two years).

Bryant was always going to make the jump when he was mixing it up with pros at his junior year of high school culminating in a state championship of Pennsylvania as he was the talk of Philadelphia.  The leap to the Los Angeles Lakers was a dream come true and a meeting of two great world views, with the end of Magic Johnson due to his HIV illness, the Lakers were a big team struggling to be relevant as Jordan and the Chicago Bulls ran the show. The Lakers needed to be relevant and with the acquisition of Bryant in the draft they had a large piece of the puzzle to regain a championship banner.

Throughout the novel, Lazenby goes to great lengths to make sense of Bryant's supposed selfishness and bloody single mindedness throughout his career; an individual who cannot play well with others, not a team player, shouting at team-mates for not passing him the ball.

These accusations followed Bryant throughout his career with him taking too many shots, ultimately missing too many shots and yet when he was hot there was probably no hotter shooter in the NBA. Bryant could score 30+ in halves of games quicker than others, from all regions most famously his fadeaway from 12 feet over the despairing arm of a defender.

Lazenby goes deep into the relationship with Shaquille O'Neal, an unbeatable tandem that garnered three straight NBA titles together something to rival Jordan's Bulls of the mid 1990s and yet O'Neal had to leave as it was Kobe's team and his alone.

By the end of the career, injuries mounted up onto a body that had played non-stop in the NBA for close to 20 years and the years of preparation before that.  His contract crippled the Lakers when they needed to rebuild and his last season turned into a farewell tour as he took to the floor of many courts for the last time.

It culminated the only way Kobe knew how to, bringing down the curtain on his professional career with 60 points in his last game at Staples Centre. Bryant brought the house down and left you wanting more. Yet Bryant could not give anymore in his desire to succeed and to be the best; his ambition was reached yet he broke some hearts along the way.

A great book and read for lovers of the NBA and Basketball for one of the more complicated players of all time.

Showboat is out now from Little Brown and Company now for £19.95 RRP, although the kindle edition is better with more pages.

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