Roland Lazenby is an American sportswriter and educator. Lazenby has written more than five dozen nonfiction books, mainly about basketball and American football.
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I’m the author of the definitive and bestselling biographies “Michael Jordan: The Life” and “Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon.” My new book “Showboat, The Life of Kobe Bryant” just came out last month. I’ve spent the last three decades interviewing NBA players, coaches, staff members, and other figures while writing about the league. Ask me anything
Do you have a favorite sports moment between the 2? Like memorable play? Comeback?
My favorite moment was their Dec. 97 meeting, ahead of the 98 All Star Game. Kobe showed that flash, piqued MJ's interest. I recall talking to MJ and Pippen immediately afterward in the locker room. They were impressed.
Hi Roland, long-time follower and fan of your writing.
I'll probably think of more questions later. Thanks again for stopping by!
Wow. Keep me busy. The Clippers thing was a bit of a high stakes gamble for Kobe. Mainly, he wanted more control, a chance to be the man. The first priority was that. The second was the Lakers. It helped him get what he wanted.
And to answer your other questions, the Nets were very close. Arn Tellem, Kobe's new agent at the time, did a good job of convincing the Nets that he might play overseas. The Bryants, of course, would have been perfectly happy with any NBA team. Adidas was the driving force in getting Kobe to the Lakers.
They had interest in Jason Kidd, obviously. But trades are complicated and talk is cheap.
Kobe was not the MVP in 2006 because his image was still in rehab following Colorado and the disastrous 05 season in which he didn't get a single vote for MVP. At age 20, Kobe told he his dream was "to be the man," to dominate all of basketball. He craved as many MVPs as he could get, so, yes, it bothered him. He wanted the world to recognize his greatness.
Well, in one sense it's an unfair question. Kobe didn't have to team up. That was done for him by Jerry West and Adidas and his then-agent, Arn Tellem. They all helped put him on a team with Shaq. On the other hand, Kobe never joined another team toward the end of his career just to try to pick up a cheap title. Kobe loved the challenge. He wanted to be seen as the best, not as a guy jumping ship to look for a better opportunity. In truth, even the greatest players need much help. Kobe benefited from playing with two excellent big men in Shaq and Pau Gasol. However, the Lakers also had a long run of tremendous veteran role players, Fish, Metta, Harper, Fox, Horry, etc. He also benefited from LA's deep, wise roster.
1-on-1, Prime Kobe vs Prime Jordan. Who wins?
I'm inclined to say MJ, but it would be very close.
What do you think makes Kobe and Michael such amazing basketball players. What is the spark or trait that makes them different from the rest? What have you observed?
A combination of things. Great physical talent, of course, but competitive nature too. They both have tremendous ability to attend, to listen. That was the basis of their ability to absorb the game quickly.
Both were also tremendous perfectionists, the sons of perfectionist mothers in many ways.
was MJ jazzed to do Space Jam or was it just another paycheck for him?
He wasn't sure how it was going to work out. Making a quasi cartoon is an awkward process. But he had a court set up in the studio and had fun playing high test pickup games when he wasn't needed on the set.
Kobe or Jordan, who is the better rapper?
Kobe, in the sense that he actually had ambitions to be a rapper. On the other hand you could say MJ because he had the good sense to avoid it. He'd rather golf.
I don't think Kobe felt threatened by LeBron, but certainly challenged. I don't get into a lot of ranking of great players. Kobe and MJ were extremely competitive, often caustically so, to the point that their teams employed a psychologist to help them have empathy for their teammates. LeBron is as intensely competitive as most but like Magic Johnson had empathy for teammates. Just very different cats. Obviously by the time Lebron won two titles with the Heat, Kobe's career had lost steam with injuries and mismanagement with the Lakers. For the 2008 Olympics, LeBron learned much from Kobe about how to approach the game, about work ethic. Kobe played like a college player in 08. By 2012, Kobe was a secondary figure on the Olympic team. That was LeBron's team in a lot of ways.
Thanks for doing the AMA!
I have heard many stories about Michael Jordan being an absolute asshat in public; not tipping, being rude, etc. Did you find this to be true?
I was never his waiter. But in Washington there was a lot of Internet traffic about that. MJ, of course, was hardly alone in that. Most pro athletes have been on scholarship for much of their lives. Some of them have very short arms to go with their deep pockets.
I am currently reading your book (great so far!) and it seems that Kobe was a very polarizing character in his youth and throughout his career and it seems like there seems to be a connection with the dominant female figure in his life, from his mother, Pam, to his wife, Vanessa.
How much do you think it was the seemingly coddling/suffocating nature of his mother Pam or his wife that lead to so much strife in his personal and professional life?
Certainly that conflict with his mother drove some of his anger. Inside observers noticed that Kobe seemed to be caught between two difficult people in his life, his mother and fiancee. Kobe himself could be difficult as well. A lot of the strife seems to have come from his drive and ambition, but then again that's what made him great. It's pretty clear you don't get one without the other. Kobe did himself tremendous damage in lashing out in anger and frustration. He was fortunate to have the strong will to recover from his mistakes, that and great luck in getting Phil back as coach and having Pau Gasol come to the Lakers.
Any reason why Kobe didn't agree to be interviewed for the book?
I don't know many people who enjoy having a biography written about them. Kobe is a control freak, and this is an independent look at his life. There's little to gain by agreeing to be interviewed, perhaps.
How self aware were MJ and Kobe of everything around them or did they live in a bit of a bubble?
Well, extremely self aware in many regards, acutely aware of their environments, yet still within the bubble of that environment. It was impossible not to be in that bubble. Success there demanded it. Focus.
Whether it be fan interactions, title celebrations or something else entirely, what's the strangest moment you've expereienced with either Kobe or Michael?
Clearly the news of Kobe's involvement in the Colorado incident and later the rape charge filed against him. His image prior to that was so contrary to such a situation. The book also details his conflict with ESPN reporter Shelley Smith in the wake of the Colorado incident. That got a little strange too.
Also the title celebration in 2001 in Philly, after he had thrown his family out of his life. He basically withdrew from the celebration.
was he happy with how it turned out?
He turned down offers to do another for years. I don't think he really enjoyed giving up golf time to do that.
What is your writing process like? Do you have advice for aspiring writers?
My advice is to do lots of interviews, publish them on a blog. Research is what sets your writing apart. Plus it's what makes this fun. Talking to the people. Getting to know them. You can start with retired players if you're going to write about sports. They'll have lots of insight about today's game too, but they'll also tell you more about when they played. Do lots of research before you talk to them so that you know about them. That will make your questions better and allow you to engage them for some really high level conversations. Good luck!
What is the most interesting thing you have discovered in the research for your books?
I like studying the mothers of great athletes. They are spirited, perfectionist women, all very different in their personalities but with profound impact upon their sons.
Roland, do you think it's a coincidence that you and William Gibson both grew up in Wytheville, VA or is there something in the water that led a <10,000 population town to produce two incredibly talented writers?
Well, if it's in the water, he drank a lot more of it than I did. He's a truly great writer.
That could be a really interesting idea for a book! Moms of great athletes.
there ya go
What do you think about the league this year? Who will win and most importantly would you write a book about this. Lebron vs Kobe?
There are a few strong teams, several mediocre teams, and some awful ones. The league is very young. I edit Lindy's Pro Basketball Annual and picked Golden State to beat the Cavs in the Finals, a pick that doesn't require rocket science. San Antonio might find a way to upend GS, but I doubt it. Kobe and LeBron and very different players who have demonstrated their greatness convincingly. As for my next book, I'm taking some time to mull that over.