Book notes: Showboat by Roland Lazenby

Showboat by Roland Lazenby book review summary.

Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryan by Roland Lazenby

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Synopsis:

“Seventeen-time all-star; scorer of 81 points in a game; MVP; and a shooting guard second only to Jordan in league history: Kobe Bryant is one of basketball’s absolute greatest players, a fascinating and complicated character who knew when he was a mere boy that he would be better than Jordan on the court.

The debate about whether he achieved that is a furious one – but Kobe has surpassed Jordan on the all-time scoring list and has only one less championship than Jordan (five to Jordan’s six).

The Lakers are the flashiest team in all of sports, and the context in which Bryant played is salacious and exciting. Provocative stories mixed with good old-fashioned basketball reporting make for a riveting and essential listen for any hoops fan.” -Audible

Opening thoughts:

Finally picked up this book, which I only put off because it’s such a lengthy book, about 23 hours or so? But my mom has been a huge fan of Kobe since I was a kid and so by transitive property so have I. I’m sure there are TONS of gems in this book, and so I’m excited to listen.

Key notes:

  • That impenetrable, unshakable self-belief was the one trait where Bryant clearly outranked his contemporaries
  • The nickname “Showboat” also represents the prodigious love of the game that Bryant shared with his father, and their delight in playing it in a flashy, entertaining manner
  • Bryant seized upon his nickname “Black Mamba” in a Quentin Tarantino filmed the perfect embodiment of his supposedly similarly remorseless, competitive nature
    • He came to portray his process as much about embracing and channeling the villain in one’s competitive nature
  • Kobe’s last game became a celebration of the love that fans in Los Angeles held for him and his ability to conjure up magic on any given game night
  • Bryant deemed it absolutely necessary to move forward without his loved ones, pretty much his entire immediately family
    • He felt the pain of the loss of his family, the alienation, very deeply

Show me a hero, and I’ll show you a tragedy” -F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • Jelly Bean got off with hardly even a slap on the wrist for the cocaine and property damage charges from the judge, who cited he was an idol among Philadelphia’s youngsters, and to always live straight from now on
    • This was a pivotal moment for the Bryant family as Kobe wouldn’t have been who he was without this leniency
  • The combination of genetics from his mom and dad was great
    • But also the grooming from his mom, and extra affection and attention for Kobe
  • Kobe had much of his mom’s personality and was seen as a mommas boy
    • He said his enthusiasm and love of play is like his dad
    • But on the court, he’s more like his mother
  • Unlike his smiling and happy go lucky persona of his father, Kobe was always serious and focused on the court
    • He developed his selfishness when they lived in Italy and Kobe was so much better than everyone else on the court
  • Their family moved a lot and it was hard for them to make friends, which maintained their alienation
  • There was the kind of attitude they developed in Italy. They stuck together. The backbone is the family
    • Once you have that, then everything else is cool. Whether you score 50 points or 0, your family is going to be there
    • His family became the bedrock of the confidence his father kept emphasizing
  • Many coaches say that Italy was the foundation of his game
    • He played the all-around game and learned every aspect
    • Throughout his career, if he was deficient in something, Bryant would display the work ethic to build every element of his competitive portfolio with an almost manic insistence
      • Another product of his Italian experience
  • His father’s charisma on the court taught him to love the game
    • His father’s easy basketball schedule in Italy also allowed more family time
  • His time spent in Italy reinforced the isolationist nature that Kobe shared with his mother
  • He and his dad would meticulously study videos of great players, games, and movements/sequences the way a coach would
    • This practice he started at an early age
  • As a kid, Kobe looked up to Magic Johnson and was most mesmerizing by his enthusiasm for the game
    • Magic was also his dad’s example of a great player
  • Basketball fans in Italy had more passion for the game than Americans
    • There he learned to fight with his intensity
  • Even as a freshman on the basketball team, his work ethic was undeniable to everyone else and older players

Reader’s note: It seems like a common theme from all these people who saw Kobe during his high school basketball days that he had incredible focus

  • His mother said that Bryant had a hunger for learning and empowering himself
    • Greatness is all about experimenting
  • Michael Jordan was responsible for the long shorts in the NBA because he didn’t want to wear the short shorts and was self-conscious about his skinny legs
  • Phil Knight (Nike founder) was also known to be very competitive
  • In his high school career, he had a reputation for being a “loud assassin”
    • He told you he was coming for you and you still couldn’t do anything about it
  • Some saw Kobe as a genius in basketball
    • He’s studied the game harder than anyone else has ever studied the game
  • You could say he was homeless because that’s how hungry he played and how much heart and determination he played with
    • He was always trying to get better to the point that he cut everything and everyone off
    • He had a vision and a goal in mind. And that was it. That was the end all, be all
      • He played like every game was his last, every workout was his last
      • He would out-will people. His will was unmatched
  • Sometimes people don’t understand that to be the very best, you have to do things that aren’t going to make you a likable person
    • You have to sacrifice tons of things
    • People might think you’re arrogant, but you’re just focused
  • You saw the greatness in him because he made everything seem so easy. And he was able to do it by himself
  • Kobe had high standards. He just wanted the best out of everyone. And nothing short of that would do
    • Kobe would practice the most difficult shots over and over again because he knew he would have to make those shots against multiple defenders
    • He knew there would be times in the game where he had to create a shot for himself
    • The way he practiced, he was being innovative and creative and had the mentality that he could get it done

“The moment is bigger than the injury. You don’t feel the pain.”

  • His father told him that he never doubted himself before, so why start now?
    • This was in regards to him doubting going straight to the NBA out of high school over going to college
  • Brandy became his high profile date for his senior prom
  • Kobe also wanted to get into the league as soon as possible so he could play against Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan
  • There are a lot of players with talent, but only the great ones have the mental toughness and the mental drive
  • Obsessiveness was the engine that drove the immense focus of the games greatest players such as Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Jerry West
  • As a scout, you could see what the player could do on the floor
    • But it was much harder, almost impossible, to read a players heart which was where real greatness lay
    • Bryant’s workout had been so impressive for Jerry West that it had revealed his heart
      • It was there in the skill set alone, just the amount of work that a player would have to have done to possess such immaculate moves, the execution and hours that must’ve put into that kind of perfection

Reader’s note: This is a prime example of being prepared for the moment in order to become “lucky”.

  • Kobe was really comfortable around his other veteran teammates
    • They also knew that he was fundamentally different from them
    • He had a different intelligence, spoke multiple languages, grew up in a different environment
  • His reserved and introverted nature made some of his teammates question whether he thought he was better than everyone else and really had the best interests of his team or just looking out for himself
  • Kobe said what helped him manage his expectations of little playing time was reading Jackie Robinson‘s autobiography and how the matter what he’s going through is not as bad as what Jackie went through
  • Bryant said that he used his early failures as motivation during training when things got tough
    • He didn’t regret taking the shots he missed, but it pushed him to work harder
  • In regards to his for missed shots, his coach said, at some point he’s going to make those shots because he has the balls to take them even after he’s missed
  • Some speculate that he may not be as good as he was if he made one of those for shots. It was one of those setbacks and the public humiliation that set him up and pushed him to work harder
  • The theme of Kobe’s shoe was “style” compared to Jordan’s “flying”
  • Bryant was unique because he was always willing to learn
  • At practices, he was one of the most driven and competitive players the trainers and coaches had ever seen
  • The matchup between Jordan and Bryant was a coronation of sorts
  • Kobe agreed that the power to score is something you have to hold back sometimes and was something he had to improve on
  • He hated and loved the challenge of “hitting a wall” so to speak
    • It was part of the fun

“I want to go through periods when I’m struggling because that’s when you learn. And the more you learn, the better you get”

    • Though even his optimism irritated teammates.

Reader’s note: Again, wow. I love that this book really opens up Kobe’s mindset. Hearing how he thinks, it’s no surprise how he became a legend. He sees obstacles as a necessity to get better. He uses it to push himself harder and not waste a second. He’s hyper-focused on his goal and was so driven and determined to be great. It’s inspiring me to want to strive towards something.

  • His team thinking he had an ego and all of the media attention further alienated him

Reader’s note: It seems like aside from his focused, driven, and competitive nature, another huge part of the KB story is clearly his alienation. It reminds me of the saying, “it’s lonely at the top”.

  • Kobe didn’t read the papers and was unaware of what the media was saying about him being arrogant
  • Derek Fisher saw Kobe’s personality as confidence, not arrogance, the more you got to know him
    • He’s not a selfish person. He’s just a guy who has an immeasurable amount of confidence in his ability to play the game
  • Work ethic was the one standard by which Bryant measured another player
  • Kobe saw every game as a battle
    • Fisher said that’s how they all should have played, with that spirit
  • As a rookie, Kobe didn’t carry himself like a young phenomenon, much different than with LeBron James
    • Kobe didn’t take on the typical aspects of a stereotypical NBA star
    • Everyone was caught up with street cred but Kobe didn’t have it because he was the wealthy suburban kid who grew up in Italy
    • He was mostly comfortable with who he was
  • Both Kobe and Michael loved the practice and loved the work and loved the drill
  • What people like Michael and Kobe loved about the coach Winter was that they welcomed honest criticism
  • The pressure is there, but it’s how you deal with it when you feel it . You just give it your best and prepare yourself as well as you can
    • You go out there and execute as well as you can. Then you sleep, get up the next day, and do the same thing.
  • Everyone around him speculated why Kobe decided to cut off and alienate his entire family during his marriage with Vanessa
    • Some say it was a moment of insanity, some say it was consistent with his personality.
  • Kobe broke down in tears holding his MVP trophy for the all-star game in Philadelphia when the crowds were booing him all night
  • Another coach commented that first off, his talent is astounding
    • Second is that his body exaggerates that talent with his height and length
    • Third is that he has an uncommon will to win
      • It’s the same exact will to win as Michael Jordan
  • Kobe seemed to always keep his expectations well beyond his performance
    • All of his success achieved at an early age never detracted from his work ethic
      • It never filled his desire to go out and prove it to the next person that he was the absolute best
    • There was something about Kobe that success didn’t dull but only wetted his appetite more
  • During his period of high scoring, he was clearly a man in search of his limits
    • His ability to perform at this high level was based on his years of extreme personal practice
  • The essence of what allowed great players like Bryant to stand above all others was his mental toughness and a willingness and an ability to accept responsibility on a night after night basis.
  • Kobe would ask one of Jordan’s former trainers how he would handle certain situations as a leader
  • Kobe’s level of dedication never switched off
    • Instead of slowing as he aged, he increased his intensity
    • Schafer called him the most dedicated player he’s ever worked with, even compared to Jordan
    • No one came close to the daily grind that Bryant chose
    • Jordan would put on extra work if he needed to. Kobe was always going
      • His dedication to being the best basketball player was unparalleled
  • Kobe scored 81 points against the Raptors, the second highest single-game scoring behind will Chamberlain’s 100 points in PA 1962
    • Brian Shana, who played against Wilt and Magic and Jordan, said that was the greatest performance he’s ever seen
    • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said that at least stylistically, Kobe 81 points was better than Chamberlains, as he used a wide variety of shots to get those points
      • It was an incredible feat of versatility
  • Winter, who had coached Jordan for more than a decade, said he never saw Jordan go off on such a scoring spree
    • Kobe has an incredible sense of when to push for and look for his own shot
    • It’s arguable that Jordan’s team was stronger than Kobe’s at the time
  • After 10 years, people said he still had ungodly focus, but there was a maturity and precision to it and everything he did
    • He wasn’t just a better athlete, he was a better basketball player mentally and physically
  • He spoke to his teammates in the only way he knew
    • The way he fit in was playing basketball
    • He was always on the outside looking in
  • Kobe’s ability to focus and perform at a high-level despite all that he was going through really said something about him
  • Bryant’s Olympic experience would allow him to heavily influence a generation of players
    • In the weight room, he set the tone for a lot of players
    • There’s no doubt that he made a major contribution to USA basketball

Reader’s note: This is crazy, how this exposure to other players allowed him to show them what a true and high-level work ethic looks like.

  • At this point of rebuilding the Lakers team, Kobe rebranded himself as the “Black Mamba” and changed his number to 24 as a new chapter in his career
  • The loneliness and alienation was the price he paid for greatness
  • Compared to Chamberlains 7-game streak, Kobe was against tough competition and a stronger defense of players
    • With his size, Chamberlain just outmanned most of the centers in his day
    • Kobe was an average size guy, and for him to go off on a scoring spree is remarkable
  • Gasol came at the perfect moment when they needed him with the right skill sets and the right personality
  • During that season, Jordan defended Kobe and commented how he was a hard worker and the best of his generation that tried to be like Mike
    • He also mentioned how the way people learn is by copying which is what critics said Kobe did of Jordan
    • Jordan acknowledged that people play because of the people that came before them and who they learn from
      • That’s the evolution of basketball
    • He said the Bryant was the one who did the work in the face of the example Jordan presented
    • Jordan admitted to being fascinated by Bryant’s career as he played in the same positions with the same triangle offense with Jackson and Winter
  • Dwyane Wade remembers during training for the 2008 Olympics when he came in early for practice one morning and saw Brian was already done with his second workout
    • He knew that Brian was a different beast and that work ethic would inspire others
    • Duane said, “you understand why a guy is that great when you see things like that
  • During the Olympics season, Bryant showed his ability to be a consummate team player and said that his Olympic victory was greater than even his NBA titles because it was one in representation of his country
  • Bryant noted that he needed to embrace the inner villain in within himself in order to vanquish opponents
  • Bryant praised Gasol for his versatility and skill in the fundamentals
  • Game 7 of their repeat championships was going to be a huge impact for Kobe’s legacy
  • Documentary by Spike Lee in 2009 on Bryant
  • Kobe became the youngest player in NBA history to rack up 30,000 points
  • The divorce was called off
    • Some say it was because they were both incurable loners who had found a level of comfort with each other
    • Kobe was also going through a lot that he longed for companionship
  • Another coach said that from all the years working with Kobe, that despite all of his ambition and drive, he found nothing more important than his two daughters
    • The two were the priority for which he would skip a workout
    • It seemed like he started to learn that there were more important things to be won than titles and glory
  • The team miraculously came together despite lacking chemistry and health all due to Kobe’s vast, unbreakable will
  • In the game against Golden State at Staples Center, he tore his Achilles tendon and went back on the floor to get his free throws and then walked off
    • While most people would have to be carted off, Kobe displayed an believable show of will despite pain
  • Later in his career, Kobe told Shaq that after playing with other centers, he realized that he failed to recognize O’Neil’s greatness, that he regretted his failure had cost them the opportunity to win more championships
  • Kobe was always happy to let you know that he revelled in the work
    • It had always been his particular mind game
    • That he was going to outwork you and there was nothing you could do about it because you couldn’t possibly outwork him
    • That has always been his behemoth: Belief.
  • Some saw Bryant as the last Laker of an era
  • While fighting through his injuries and rehabilitation schedule, he found that he had millions of supporters all over the world locked into his passion and drive
  • Stepping onto the court in 2014 meant he tied for the most seasons played on a single team

Reader’s note: wow this is crazy. It seems like he’s breaking so many records even despite getting injured more often and his body being worn down. He still pushing and scoring like crazy. And this is on top of turmoil within the team and change in personnel and coaches. Many of these records also show just pure commitment to the game and his craft as I’m sure many others in his position would’ve quit long ago. The theme here is drive + persistence = greatness

  • He became one of only four players to get more than 40 points in a game over age 36
  • On November 30 against Toronto 2014, he reached 6000 assists in his career
    • He was now the only player in NBA history to compile better than 30,000 points and 6000 assists.
  • In Minnesota on December 14, 2014, in the second quarter, Bryant hit a free throw for the 32,293 point of his career, which meant he clips Jordan and became the third highest all time scoring list
  • In regards to reconciling with Vanessa, “when the show ends and the music stops, the journey is made beautiful by having that someone to share it with.”
  • His last season was largely a farewell tour with everyone showering him with love
    • This also helped him play better
  • His last farewell game in April against Utah jazz was a dream. He scored 61 points, in which no one else scored as many points in the entire season
    • A journalist pointed out there have only been 31 games of 60 points since 1963
    • The total had been achieved just eight times in the last 11 seasons
      • Bryant owned five of those
  • In 1969 at age 32, Wilt Chamberlain had achieved the distinction of being the oldest player to score 60 (66). Bryant achieved the feat at 37.
  • Couldn’t believe how fast 20 years was
    • He was the boy who had lived his dream
    • Bryant had authored a near perfect ending for his career
    • He said, you can’t write something better than this.
    • He was finally “the man,” a figure completely in control
  • If there was a final scene, it would be him reconciling with his parents

Reader’s note: Amazing! I still can’t believe it. It’s crazy to have been a part of this journey and to have witnessed his last game live on TV in 2016. This storybook ending for his NBA career was definitely a result of his hard work, dedication, and persistence despite all of the challenges. In other words, he earned it.

Themes:

  1. Alienation and being an outsider – Kobe was known to have the “outsider” reputation among the players in the league. He wasn’t from the inner city, he was a wealthy suburban kid who grew up in Italy and spoke multiple languages. For the most part, he trained alone and put on a loner persona.
    • While some interpretted this as ego, his actions could presumably mean he thought he was better than everyone else, others saw that it was just the way his mind worked. He was focused and determined to be great, and knew that most of his journey would be on his own. He found out firsthand that it truly is lonely at the top.
  2. Focus and drive – If there’s a big theme in Kobe’s life that goes hand in hand with being an outsider, it’s his incessant focus. It seemed like throughout his 20-year NBA career, he was always putting in more hours than his peers and had a phenomenal work ethic. Several times throughout the book, his coaches, trainers, and fellow athletes would comment on how his work ethic was unparalleled. He would out-work and out-will you, which made him the deadliest force in the NBA at the time.
  3. Constant learning – It’s clear that Kobe, especially early in his career, was a sponge to all of his coaches, mentors, and people around him whom he learned from. While he had the raw talent, his drive to become better necessitated removing his ego and being humble enough to learn from others with more experience. “Greatness is all about experimenting“.
  4. Becoming “the man” and standing on the shoulders of giants – People were always comparing him to Jordan, as their play styles were similar. But as Jordan mentioned, we all learn from those who come before us, its a part of the evolution and its inevitable. What they had in common was their drive and competitiveness to be the best and win. Even their coaches saw many similarities with them as leaders on their teams. Some key differences from 3rd party references were that Jordan was definitely harsher on his team, but Kobe had the edge of putting in more work consistently over the long term.
  5. Family and relationships – His family growing up and their support was a HUGE factor in Kobe’s success by the end of his career. This made his falling out with his family very unfortunate. However, people say this falling out was both consistent and inconsistent with his personality (while the warmth and love for his family was part of his foundation, so was his ability to cut things out of his life if it didn’t serve his ambitions)
    • While he also struggled with his marriage with Vanessa, eventually they reconciled. Kobe matured as a person and saw the value of being with a life partner. He also started to prioritize spending time with his daughters above basketball, which was his sole focus for the past few decades.
  6. Channeling the “inner villain” – Sometimes it takes unleashing the inner demon within in order to “vanquish one’s opponents”. Kobe was known, especially later in his career, to be a facilitator to his team. In the later half of the game, he would step in and pick up the pace if they needed him. This ruthlessness is a common theme among all of the great players. See the book Relentless by Tim Grover, a trainer who coached both Jordan and Bryant.
  7. Loving the work & falling in love with the process – A hallmark of the Kobe mindset was that he truly loved putting in the work. He especially loved the challenges because he knew that was how one gets better. He loved the fun of breaking through plateaus when an athlete “hits the wall” and has to get to the next level. Loving the work and the daily grind is what separates simply “talented” athletes from the greats because they’ll put in the work regardless of how much success they had.
  8. Success intensified his appetite and work ethic – Another characteristic of a legend is how they deal with success. Where most people would relax after getting to the top, the success of legends like Jordan and Kobe would actually wet their appetite for more. Kobe intensified his training and work ethic as his career progressed in order to get to the next level, which is the hardest thing to do. Kobe was facing a biological odometer that motivated him to become better and solidify his legacy.

Closing thoughts:

This book blew me away, hands down. I knew I was going to get a treat from this, but it exceeded my expectations.

At first, I was daunted by the 23-ish hour length of this audiobook. However, every minute was so intriguing that I couldn’t stop listening to it. As I’ve mentioned before, I really enjoy books with a great narrative that weaves in the principles of the successful and life lessons learned along the journey. There were plenty of lessons in Kobe’s journey.

I also have a personal bias for Kobe because my mom, sister, and I all watched and followed Kobe’s journey since his championship runs in 2000. My mom is a diehard Kobe fan (she wears her Kobe jerseys in public in the Bay Area despite always being surrounded by GSW fans lol), and Kobe has been the only athlete I admired in all of the professional sports. His is the only jersey I own haha.

Therefore, reading/listening to this book was definitely long overdue.

Overall, fantastic book for anyone who’s a fan of Kobe, basketball, sports, athletics, or biographies of amazingly successful people. This is especially valuable because it takes you into the mind of Bryant, as well as the forces that created the beast of a player he was while in the NBA.

Nutshell:

The life and extraordinary career of NBA legend Kobe Bryant.

Rating:

4/5

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