Review: ‘The Rise’ recounts Kobe Bryant’s high school years

Jan 10, 2022, 7:54 AM | Updated: 8:22 am

“The Rise: Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality” by Mike Sielski (St. Martin’s Press)

Serious basketball fans know the broad strokes of the Kobe Bryant story. The five NBA titles won during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, the sexual assault allegation against him in 2003 that was eventually dropped when his accuser refused to testify, the Academy Award he won for a short film about basketball following his retirement, and his tragic death in 2020 aboard a helicopter on a foggy Southern California morning while flying with one of his teenage daughters to her basketball game.

In “The Rise,” Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Mike Sielski focuses on what happened before any of that, when Kobe was just a kid. Sielski starts at the very beginning, on Kobe’s birthday — Aug. 23, 1978 — and paints a portrait of a kid from a loving family who spent his adolescence in Italy, where his father, Joe, played basketball, before they moved back to suburban Philadelphia in part so the family could nurture the basketball prodigy.

“He was a kid obsessed,” writes Sielski, as he chronicles the single-minded drive of the young Kobe, who if he wasn’t practicing his crossover or competing in weekend AAU tournaments, was watching VHS recordings of NBA stars Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, studying their moves with absolute conviction that someday he would be performing on the exact same stage. Sielski drew from a series of interviews recorded with Kobe in the mid-90´s by one of his high school assistant coaches at Lower Merion High School, a tony suburb on Philadelphia’s Main Line.

Stories gleaned from those interviews are complemented by interviews with more than 100 other people in Kobe’s life at the time. The result is a compelling origin story of a time that really wasn’t so long ago, but through the lens of tragedy, feels like forever.

Kobe-ologists will devour this book, reveling in the anecdotes about his intensity and the engaging game recaps as he leads Lower Merion to a Pennsylvania state championship in 1996. But while Kobe is undoubtedly the star, the book also focuses on the impact Kobe’s rise had on everyone around him. We hear a lot from his coach, Gregg Downer, from a slew of high school classmates and competitors, even from his teachers. The Internet was just getting started in the mid-90´s, so Kobe was one of the last of the high school hoop phenoms not to have his every utterance and accomplishment recorded by social media. Some of the book’s best moments are when Sielski describes something he’s watching on tape, like this end of the state semifinal in 1996, Kobe’s penultimate high school game: “Kobe caught up to the ball just inside the foul line and didn’t take another dribble, and when he leaped, the baggy white T-shirt he wore under his tank top billowed like a skydiver’s flight suit.”

The book bogs down a bit when the focus turns away from Kobe’s exploits on the court. There’s too much about LaSalle’s employment of Joe in hopes that he’ll recruit his son to play for his alma mater. Readers will also gloss over the scenes with Sonny Vaccaro, the sports marketing executive who was consumed with landing Kobe as an Adidas client to get back at his former employer, Nike. In the end, they’re just moons in orbit around Kobe, proof that his gravitational pull was extraordinary, but not nearly as interesting as the phenom himself.

“The Rise” ends in the summer of 1997, after Kobe’s first NBA season concludes with a loss to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semifinals. Our hero is still just 19, with all his professional accomplishments yet to come. But all that we’ve read to this point leaves him no doubt about how to move forward. After missing the potential game-winner at the end of regulation, he calls his agent’s assistant from the plane on his way home. His request? “Have Palisades gym open for me. I want to go shoot.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - More than 100 opponents of the Republican redistricting plans vow to fight the maps at a ral...
Associated Press

Abortion ruling puts spotlight on gerrymandered legislatures

In overturning a half-century of nationwide legal protection for abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Roe v. Wade had been wrongly decided and that it was time to “return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives” in the states. Whether those elected officials are truly representative of the people is a matter […]
17 hours ago
People salute the casket of Hershel "Woody" Williams set up in the first floor rotunda of the West ...
Associated Press

WWII Medal of Honor recipient to lie in state at US Capitol

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin announced at a memorial on Sunday where Williams was remembered for his courage, humility and selflessness. “He never quit giving back,” said Manchin. That […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

West Africa leaders lift sanctions on 2 junta-led neighbors

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — West African leaders attending a regional summit agreed Sunday to lift sanctions on two neighbors led by military governments that are now promising a return to democratic rule. The summit of the Economic Community of West African States resolved to lift all economic and financial sanctions imposed on Mali and Burkina […]
17 hours ago
People evacuated from the Field's shopping center gather outside,  in Orestad, Copenhagen, Denmark,...
Associated Press

Several dead in Copenhagen mall shooting; suspect arrested

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A gunman opened fired inside a busy shopping mall in the Danish capital on Sunday, killing several people and wounding several others, police said. A 22-year-old Danish man was arrested after the shooting, Copenhagen police inspector Søren Thomassen told reporters, adding there was no indication that anyone else was involved, though […]
17 hours ago
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, briefs the media after a meeting with her counterpart fr...
Associated Press

Germany, Ireland slam UK move toward overriding Brexit deal

LONDON (AP) — Germany and Ireland have condemned the U.K government’s move towards unilaterally rewriting parts of the post-Brexit deal with the European Union. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Irish counterpart Simon Coveney said there was “no legal or political justification” for overriding the agreed trade rules in Northern Ireland. Writing in British newspaper […]
17 hours ago
FILE - California Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses the recent mass shooting in Texas during a news confe...
Associated Press

‘Join us in California’: Newsom targets GOP in Florida ad

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom is running for reelection in California, but his latest television ad is airing in Florida. The 30-second spot scheduled to air on Fox News starting Monday takes shots at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his policies, while drawing a contrast with California. “Freedom, it’s under attack in your […]
17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
Review: ‘The Rise’ recounts Kobe Bryant’s high school years