The Rise (2022) provides an intimate account of the early years of Kobe Bryant’s career. It explores the influences that helped Bryant become so passionate about basketball and shows how his remarkable talent helped transform his suburban high school team into a state championship winner. It also reveals how Bryant carefully crafted his legacy from an early age, displaying an advanced media savvy he would employ throughout his career.
Introduction: Get an inside view on the making of a basketball legend.
Table of Contents
- Introduction: Get an inside view on the making of a basketball legend.
- Kobe Bryant lived and breathed basketball from a young age – and made it his own.
- In Italy, Kobe learned the fundamentals of basketball and developed a discipline that later made him an icon.
- Moving back to the United States, Kobe felt like a fish out of water.
- In high school, Kobe became a champion and transformed his team.
- The Aces achieved their dreams and Kobe was crowned the best high school player in America.
- Kobe finally reveals the plans for the next chapter of his career.
- Final Summary
- About the author
- Table of Contents
In January 2020, the world of sports was shattered by the news that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash. And it wasn’t just the world of sports. Kobe’s talent, passion, and drive for greatness had touched many around him long before his career in the NBA.
This summary isn’t about Kobe’s professional basketball career or his distinct playing style.
Instead, it provides an insight into the formative years of one of the biggest sports icons of our time.
It reveals the courage, discipline, determination, and ruthlessness that led him to become the remarkable player that he was. It also shines a light on how, even as a teenager, Bryant had already begun shaping his legacy, masterfully crafting a public persona that will live on long after his death.
In fact, this summary shows that Kobe Bryant lived as if he were an NBA superstar decades before he actually became one.
So here are a few things you’ll take away:
- why Kobe’s career was so different from that of his father, who was just as talented;
- how growing up in Italy shaped him; and
- how Kobe’s remarkable talent helped transform his suburban high school team into a state championship winner.
Kobe Bryant lived and breathed basketball from a young age – and made it his own.
Picture the scene: a toddler cups a ball in his tiny hand and dashes forward, cheerfully slamming the ball into a miniature basketball hoop. He does it again and again, and each time, his face breaks into a huge grin.
That grinning child – you guessed it – was Kobe Bryant. The Kobe Bryant, who would grow up to be one of the best basketball players of all time.
So how does someone grow up to be a champion or, better yet, a basketball icon? Pure, raw talent is part of it, yes. But while icons are born, they’re also made.
Now, each icon has their own unique story. In Kobe’s case, it was his talent coupled with the favorable circumstances of his birth. Kobe Bryant was steeped in the world of basketball from the time he was a baby; his father made sure of that.
You see, Kobe wasn’t the first professional basketball player in the family. He actually followed in the footsteps of his father, Joe Bryant, who was a pretty talented player himself. Kobe grew up watching every home game his father played as part of their local NBA team, the Philadelphia 76ers – known to fans as the Sixers. Baby Kobe was as comfortable in the basketball arena as he was in his own home.
By carefully watching how his father played and lived the life of a professional basketball player, Kobe learned what to do. But more importantly, he learned what not to do. Because Joe’s basketball career was … rocky.
Although in college he was celebrated as one of the best players in the city, Joe’s career fizzled out once he hit the NBA. He started out playing with the Sixers, but was traded after a public scandal stained his name.
One night, police attempted to pull Joe over while he was driving. But instead of stopping, he sped away, resulting in a high-speed chase. When they finally caught up with him, they discovered two vials of cocaine in the car – along with a woman who was not his wife.
Along with his unpredictable performance on the court – mainly due to his whimsical play and lack of discipline – this scandal proved that Joe was too much of a burden for the Sixers. He was traded to a team in California, where he played for a short time before moving to a different team in Texas. But both were mediocre teams, and he wasn’t given a chance to shine. Finally, Joe’s contract ran out, and no NBA team wanted to sign him. At that stage, Joe had two choices: give up professional basketball altogether or move overseas, where his talents would be valued. And so he decided to move his family to Italy.
In Italy, Kobe learned the fundamentals of basketball and developed a discipline that later made him an icon.
At that time, Kobe was six years old. The family quickly embraced their new life in a foreign country, in a town in central Italy called Rieti. They were seen as celebrities there, attracting curiosity and friendly gestures; wherever they went, people would recognize them, offer them drinks, and ask for Joe’s autograph. The children, Sharia, Shaya, and Kobe, picked up the language more quickly than their parents, and they enjoyed eating Italian pizza and gelato – not to mention the sun. But most importantly, away from the tight schedules of the NBA, the Bryants became much more family-oriented.
Soon after Joe joined a team in the Italian league, Sebastiani Rieti, Kobe joined their youth league, playing with kids a couple of years older. At that point, his talent was already shining through – sometimes so much so that the other boys would start crying and the coach would have no choice but to send Kobe to the bench.
For Kobe, there was nothing quite like basketball. Joe encouraged this interest, and the two of them spent hours playing in their driveway. Whenever Kobe would play a game, his father would be there to see him, win or lose. And it didn’t stop there. After school, Kobe would join his father at afternoon practice, watching him and others play. And when the team was playing an away game, Joe would regularly take Kobe along on the team bus.
Even at this young age, Kobe didn’t mind being in the spotlight. At his father’s games, he’d mop the court at halftime and then take the opportunity to put on his own show, repeating the moves he’d just seen as the audience looked on in awe. He’d have to be chased off the court so the real game could continue.
In the evenings, the Bryants relaxed in front of the TV. But instead of watching sitcoms like an ordinary family, they watched basketball games. Kobe was especially obsessive. He would watch the same games on tape again and again like the avergage person might watch their favorite movie, learning all the lines by heart. He was entranced by the power of players like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who seemed to effortlessly control the game. And as he watched, his father would provide live commentary and an analyze all the plays.
All those nights spent watching basketball games weren’t just about entertainment; in fact, Kobe was memorizing moves, mentally rehearsing for a time when he wouldn’t be just slamming balls into the hoop in his driveway. Then, it would be his name being screamed in arenas rather than Magic Johnson’s.
You could say that Kobe was born basketball royalty, inheriting a status and a name that opened the doors to success. But you can’t argue that his greatness was handed to him on a platter.
He had just as much talent as his father, but unlike his father, he combined that talent with a steely discipline. While Joe’s style was playful and unpredictable, Kobe’s was rehearsed and systematic. Kobe forged a career based on his own talent and determination, a career that would end up looking very different than his father’s.
But in order to get there, Kobe would have to experience a period of profound dislocation and loneliness. When his father retired in 1992, the Bryants left their comfortable Italian life and moved back to the United States.
Moving back to the United States, Kobe felt like a fish out of water.
The Kobe Bryant who moved back to the United States at 13 didn’t yet look like an intimidating pro basketball player. He was skinny, with legs like a twig. When he played basketball, he wore kneepads and goggles, copying some of his basketball idols, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. So he stuck out on the courts of Philadelphia.
In Italy, Kobe had lived a pampered, sheltered life in a small town. So when the family moved back to the US, it was a shock.
Kobe and his sisters were sent to the local high school, where they then again stood out as different, but for different reasons than they had in Italy. Here, they were a Black family in a wealthy, majority white school. They didn’t dress like regular American teens, and they didn’t understand the culture. Kobe spoke fluent Italian but didn’t know any American slang. And he didn’t share the pop culture that his classmates had absorbed through TV, either, not only because he’d grown up in Italy, but because even after moving back, he was so busy watching basketball games that he had no time for The Simpsons or MTV. And he certainly wasn’t prepared for the rough style of basketball that was played on the streets of Philadelphia.
In the summer of 1991, his father signed him up to play in a local league called the Sonny Hill League.
That was a bruising season for Kobe. He was playing with guys a couple years older than him, and he was no match for their experience. That summer, he played in 25 games without scoring a single point. It was humiliating. He felt like he’d let his father and the rest of the family down. He even briefly considered giving up basketball altogether and switching to soccer instead.
Everyone has those kinds of thoughts after failing, especially while growing up. But it’s persistence and a drive for excellence that distinguishes a future basketball icon from a future weekend warrior. So Kobe’s doubts didn’t last long. Instead of giving up, he started training even harder, practicing even more, and watching games even more obsessively. Because, apart from having talent, Kobe had a strong sense of resilience and discipline. And he had a deep, innate confidence. Perhaps it was because he had been born into basketball royalty, but Kobe’s confidence in himself was unshakeable. Some may have even called it arrogance. He just knew he was destined for success, and setbacks like a bad season couldn’t faze him for long.
That confidence didn’t win him many friends though. Much like his father, Kobe was never a team player. Once he had the ball, he would hang onto it until he scored, like back in Italy, when his self-sufficent game had made his teammates cry. And because he was so talented, most of his early coaches let him play however he wanted.
It would take years before Kobe learned that trusting others could actually improve his game and take him one step further. That basketball isn’t only about personal achievement. That working as part of a team shows another kind of confidence and grace.
In high school, Kobe became a champion and transformed his team.
Kobe’s family didn’t choose to send him to Lower Merion High School because of the strength of its basketball program. In fact, in Kobe’s first year playing on the team, the Aces, they suffered a season of crushing losses. As they lost eight games in a row, Kobe could barely contain his frustration.
His teammates just didn’t seem to take the game as seriously as he did. On tour, they’d be messing around while he would stay in his room, rehearsing his moves and brooding over everything that went wrong. It was a lonely first season with the Aces.
But the team did have one thing going for it: a young, ambitious coach, Gregg Downer, who immediately recognized Kobe’s talent. As soon as he saw Kobe playing, Downer knew that a change was coming for the Aces. And he was determined to do everything he could to help Kobe succeed.
So in spite of the grumbles of the rest of the team, Downer put Kobe in the starting lineup. He took every opportunity he could to put the ball in Kobe’s hands and give him opportunity to score. And he even hired Kobe’s father, Joe, to be part of the school’s coaching team, having the hunch that Joe might be able to coach Kobe where others couldn’t.
So to sum it up up until this point: the summer league had gone badly. Kobe’s first year of high school … also went badly.
To Kobe’s credit, he never let the frustration of that awful season discourage him. He kept training, kept practicing. He had an unyielding discipline that extended to every part of his life. He was a straight-A student. He excelled in his literature class. And he treated his body with unusual care for a teenager, especially a teenage boy. His teammates noticed that he never ate junk food and that he drank a gallon of milk with every meal. He was already eating like the NBA player he would become.
So even though that first season was frustrating, it gave Bryant many opportunities to improve his technique. Through every game, he was gaining valuable experience. But he couldn’t carry the team to a victory alone.
Luckily, he wouldn’t have to. The dynamic within the team was transformed by the arrival of another talented player: Jermaine Griffin. Griffin had grown up in Queens, in a poor community with few opportunities for a young athlete. His teacher had signed him up for a scholarship program for promising students that paid for him to attend Lower Merion. Griffin was six foot three, and just as serious about basketball as Kobe was. Unlike Kobe, he wasn’t a basketball prodigy. But he was a solid rebounder and played the tough game Kobe had gotten used to on the Philadelphia courts. He also provided the companionship that Kobe had been craving on the team. The two of them could spend hours practicing, and shared a love of rap music as well as basketball.
Once Griffin was on the team, Kobe’s strengths could really come to the fore. His second season with the Aces was very different than the first. For one, the team started winning, starting the season off with a four-game winning streak. They then lost to another high school, Williamsport, before rebounding with a seven-game winning streak. This was an unbelievable turnaround for a team that had lost almost every single game the year before.
In one game, Kobe scored 34 points in just 32 minutes of play, with five three-point shots. This was unheard of in high school basketball. His coach, Gregg Downer, couldn’t contain his excitement. For the first time, the Aces were becoming a force to be reckoned with.
But Gregg Downer knew that the real test of their strength would be to play other powerful teams in the state. And so he decided to schedule as many extra games as he could.
One Saturday, the Aces prepared themselves for a game in Coatesville against an especially intimidating team called the Red Raiders.
What made the game so daunting was that they’d be playing against Rip Hamilton, a young, cunning basketball player with a reputation for unpredictable, lightning-fast plays. And it was tough. But even Hamilton couldn’t get in the way of an Aces victory. In the last minute of the game, Kobe scored the shot that helped them win 78–77. The game proved that the team could stand up to even tough competition.
The Aces had transformed from being an obscure suburban team to one that schools across the state were watching closely.
The streak of wins had ignited a sense of pride within the team and in the broader community – it was infectuous.
For the first time in decades, teachers and students were coming to watch the games. Community members started bringing their kids to attend practices. And the team members were absorbing some of Kobe’s confidence, as if by osmosis. They were no longer fearful of playing in the big leagues.
The Aces achieved their dreams and Kobe was crowned the best high school player in America.
Kobe’s last season with the Aces couldn’t have been more different from his first. Before Kobe arrived at Lower Merion, his coach had spent sleepless nights worrying that the team wouldn’t even score a single point in the next game. With Kobe, he still had sleepless nights, but from worrying that they wouldn’t win the championship. Because it was clear to everyone that the Aces had a very real chance of winning. But the team would have to pull together and practice harder than ever before to beat some tough opposition.
Unfortunately, not all of Kobe’s teammates took the opportunity as seriously as he did. On the first day of practice that season, several arrived late. Kobe couldn’t believe their nonchalance. For his part, he continued practicing and training with furious intensity.
On the court, he played ruthlessly. In one practice game, he sent a teammate plunging into a concrete wall in order to gain control of the ball. In another, in response to a loss, he aimed the ball at a teammate’s head. He was intimidating, but his determination was widely respected.
In spite of a rocky start, the team fulfilled their dreams of reaching the Pennsylvania State Championship after beating their biggest rival – Chester – in the semifinals.
Now, in the past, this was a moment that the Aces couldn’t even have imagined. They were so close to victory.
But when the stakes are high, so is the pressure. Their most important game in the championship series started off very badly. The team was playing Erie Cathedral Prep for the 1996 state title – and Kobe’s school hadn’t won a state championship since 1943. That’s 53 years!
The Aces were off-kilter from the beginning. Their opponents started with a 7–0 lead, until the Aces finally scored a point with a free throw. Kobe hadn’t scored at all by the end of the first quarter, and the crowd started booing.
But if you’ve ever watched a basketball game, you know that a lot can change in a matter of minutes. Kobe’s team bounced back and took the lead in the third quarter. Kobe played well, although he scored only 17 points himself, almost his lowest total of the season.
But he did something new … or, new for him, anyway. He trusted his teammates to support him and passed the ball to a teammate, who made the final momentous layup. After a grueling game, Lower Merion won 48–43 and took home the state title.
And so finished Kobe’s high school basketball career. He’d scored 2,883 points over his four years with the Aces, setting a state record.
And he’d created an almost mythical public persona by cleverly courting media attention. Throughout his time at Lower Merion, the coaches received hundreds of calls from the media, so many that they even had to hire a PR representative to handle them. Documentary crews followed Kobe down the hallways of his high school, trying to get an exclusive on America’s most talented high school basketball player. And everywhere he went, he was surrounded by crowds of people looking at him, pointing, whispering, and asking for his autograph.
Now, in today’s social media landscape, we’re very familiar with the idea of shaping your public image. But in the 1990s, that was unheard of. Perhaps because he’d grown up in the glare of the media his whole life, Kobe seemed to instinctively understand how to fuel intrigue and speculation.
Kobe finally reveals the plans for the next chapter of his career.
Take the question of his future career plans, for example. After high school, Kobe had two pathways in front of him. He could either go to college and play for a team there or he could go pro and join the NBA right away.
Understandably, colleges across the country were clamoring to have him on their teams. A local college, La Salle, was very hopeful that Kobe would attend. To entice Kobe to play in his home state, it even hired Joe as a coach and gave Kobe’s sister a place on the volleyball team.
But La Salle had to compete with some of the most distinguished college basketball teams in the United States. Kobe was offered full scholarships to be on teams like Villanova, Michigan, Arizona, and even North Carolina, the alma mater of Michael Jordan. On one occasion, Jordan himself even advised Kobe to go there.
But as it happened, Kobe wasn’t interested in any of them. In fact, he’d long decided that the only path for him was to join the NBA. This was a path that worried his coaches and friends. By turning professional right away, he’d be under enormous pressure to excel immediately. By going to college, he’d have had the chance to further develop his skills and enter the NBA from a stronger position.
But Kobe wouldn’t be dissuaded. He wanted people to underestimate him. He wanted them to think he was green and inexperienced. That way, he could attack them “like a shark” that they never saw coming.
So Kobe had a clear vision of where he wanted to go. But he wouldn’t give away his plans to anyone, not even his coaches and certainly not the press. In public, he just said that he was weighing his options. This fuelled lots of frenzied speculation, and only made reporters more interested in his story.
When he finally revealed his plans, Kobe chose to do it in a press conference at his high school. On that day, the gym was full of commotion. Crowds of reporters turned up for the announcement. Kobe looked relaxed, completely at ease in the glare of all the television cameras. Finally, the moment of revelation came. Kobe looked right at the cameras and told the world that he wouldn’t be joining any college team. He was going straight to the NBA.
And then, after a nerve-wracking draft full of speculation, Kobe got his first pick: he would join the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the most formidable teams in the league. He would spent his entire 20-year career there, going on to help the Lakers win five NBA championships and cementing his legacy as one of the best basketball players in the world.
Kobe’s career was cut short, but he achieved what he’d been yearning for since he was a young kid. Although he was born into basketball royalty, he forged his own path. Through steely discipline and determination combined with raw talent, he achieved greatness, transformed a community, and left a legacy that will live on long after his death.
The way he lived and breathed basketball his whole life turned him into an immortal icon, one that keeps on inspiring people around the world to dream big.
Motivation, Inspiration, Biography, Memoir, Community and Culture, Basketball Biographies, Basketball, Black and African American Biographies
MIKE SIELSKI is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer and author. The Associated Press Sports Editors voted him the country’s top sports columnist in 2015, and his previous book, Fading Echoes: A True Story of Rivalry and Brotherhood from the Football Field to the Fields of Honor, was published in 2009. Sielski lives in Bucks County, Pa., with his wife and two sons.
Table of Contents
PREFACE: THE SIGNS OF THINGS TO COME VII
1: AFTER THE FIRE 3
2: A SAFE HAVEN 19
3: GOD AND THE DEVIL IN THEM 27
4: CHILD OF THE WORLD 43
5: ANGELS AT SUNRISE 63
6: BATS AND MICE AND THE RIDE OF A LIFETIME 75
7: LOSING 93
8: SWAGGER 115
9: SE DIO VUOIF 121
10: OK, LET’S PLAY 139
11: THE PIT 163
12: MYTH AND REALITY 175
13: SECRETS AND SHARKS 205
14: THE CANCER OF ME 227
15: RELAX: I GOT THIS 247
16: THE TUNNEL 259
17: THE FINAL GAME 275
18: THE SPEED AT WHICH THINGS CHANGE 293
19: NOW FM A LAKER 311
20: OPEN GYM 325
AFTERWORD: HIS STORY, AND HIS VOICE 333
NOTES AND SOURCES 343
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 363
Stay tuned for book review…