A mammoth biography of one of basketball’s most complicated stars.
How readers respond to Lazenby’s (Michael Jordan: The Life, 2014, etc.) new tome will depend in no small part on how they feel about the Los Angeles Lakers’ mercurial Kobe Bryant and whether or not they buy into the idea that the recently retired superstar warrants a biography of more than 600 pages. There is no doubt that Bryant helped carry the NBA into the post–Michael Jordan era, but he was also difficult, hypercompetitive, and inclined toward self-aggrandizement—“showboat” was a nickname bestowed on him by teammates early in his career. Bryant alienated many of the people in his life, from teammates, whether little-used benchwarmers or future Hall of Famers, to family—he ended up estranged from even those who had been closest to him, including his parents (his father was a former NBA and Italian league player). Allegations of a sexual assault of a Colorado hotel worker in 2003 made him more toxic to some, even after authorities dropped the case when the alleged victim refused to testify. As he did with Michael Jordan and Jerry West, Lazenby tells Bryant’s story well, and he has a firm grip on the history and culture of the NBA. However, the question remains as to whether Bryant warrants this much space so soon after his 2016 retirement; it is likely too soon for the necessary critical distance in assessing his life and its significance in the history of the NBA. Customarily, such lengthy sports biographies require the subject to transcend sports, and Lazenby does not make a convincing enough case that Bryant does so. Still, the future Hall of Famer’s life is interesting, and much of the narrative is unquestionably compelling.
This is bound to be the best biography of Kobe Bryant for some time, even if at times it may be overkill.