By Laura Latzko

Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer

Worldwide, Kobe Bryant is known as the basketball player who helped to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA championships with his 33,000 points.

Many also recall his unexpected death on Jan. 26, 2020, at age 41, in a helicopter crash.

There was more to the Black Mamba than just his NBA career. In his book “The Rise: Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality,” Mike Sielski explores the athlete’s early life. 

As part of Vroman’s Bookstore’s live virtual series, Sielski will discuss his new book on Thursday, Jan. 20, in conversation with John Gonzalez.

The writer is also hosting a 12-part podcast called “I Am Kobe.”

Sielski, an award-winning sports columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, who covered the 2001 NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I grew up in the Philadelphia area,” Sielski said.

“I’ve lived in the Philadelphia area for most of my life. The story of Kobe’s ties to the area is pretty well known to those of us here, but I thought it was not as well known to people around the country. … I thought there might be some appeal in building the book around that.”

In his book, Sielski shares Bryant’s time at Lower Merion High School, Italy and his return to Pennsylvania. He led his high school team to a state championship in 1996.

He also covers Bryant’s impact on the community — during his life and after his death.

During his research, Sielski was struck by Bryant’s motivation in the eighth and ninth grade.

“I don’t think I really had an appreciation for it until I started digging into his life like that,” said Sielski, who took a year to write the book.

“He had this plan. He had it in him. He was groomed in some ways for this. He wanted it so badly at so young an age and knew that he could do it.”

For his book, Sielski used audiotapes and transcripts from Jeremy Treatman, a journalist and commentator who was close to Bryant, about whom he planned to write a book in the 1990s.

The author received Treatman’s tapes in December 2020, in advance of his March 2021 deadline. 

Sielski said he was a good choice for the book because he could look at his life with an objective lens. Treatman and Gregg Downer, Bryant’s high school coach, were encouraging.

“They knew Kobe well, and other people have said similar things who knew Kobe back then: ‘We were looking for the right person to tell the story the right way’ — honestly and accurately,” he recalled.

“I don’t want to speak for Jeremy, but for his part, I think it was simply a matter of timing. It almost worked out in the late ’90s. It didn’t. He was very successful in doing other things in his life. Here’s the chance to get the story told.”

Sielski utilized various sources in his research, including high school newspapers, game videos, socially distanced in-person interviews and archives of The Philadelphia Tribune and The Bulletin. He worked closely with the Lower Merion Historical Society.

“It was so enjoyable and so enlightening to me to be able to dive into the other aspects of that community’s history, the conflicts there, all of the things that went into informing how people viewed Kobe and how they reacted to him when he arrived on the scene there,” Sielski said.

“I wanted the setting to almost be a character in the story, no matter where that setting was, whether we were talking about Lower Merion, whether we were talking about the actual city of Philadelphia and its basketball history, whether we are talking about the one chapter we spend in Italy with Kobe and his family there.”

Sielski said he wanted to give readers a sense of Bryant’s life, especially at Lower Merion High School, even apart from basketball.

“I wanted to talk to people who knew him away from basketball, who weren’t on the team,” Sielski said.

“I don’t know that anybody knew this. He was involved in the Student Voice organization, the Black Student Union at Lower Merion.

“I was able to speak to a number of his female friends and classmates, who could speak to certain sides of him that nobody really spoke to before They could speak to how he was grappling with his sense of identity, being a Black teenager in the early to mid-1990s who had lived in Europe for most of his early life and only moved back to the United States permanently when he was in eighth grade, when he was 13 years old.”

He did not experience that most Black students in the Lower Merion school district did not share the same experiences as white students.

“That was really important to me, to give people a look at what his social existence and academic existence were like back then,” Sielski said.

He hopes to share information about Bryant’s life that even longtime fans might not know.

“I wanted to try to take people places with Kobe that they had never been before, if I could,” he said.

“What’s it like when he’s giving an oral presentation in English class? His relationship with his favorite English teacher. Those sorts of things. I wanted it to be an intimate book, in that regard.”

The book gives greater insight into the early relationships between the basketball player, his siblings Sharia and Shaya, his mother Pam and his father, Joe, a former basketball player.

“(Bryant and his father) were so, so close when he was young and throughout his high school career,” he said. “You can see certain things in Joe’s early life and some of the things that he goes through. Kobe’s got so much of his mother, Pam, in him, too, the Catholic upbringing, the emphasis on education, some of his personality traits. He was very much a mixture of his parents.”

Mike Sielski will speak in conversation with John Gonzalez

WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 20

WHERE: Zoom through Vroman’s Bookstore

COST: Free; registration required

INFO: 626-449-5320,