'A clash of worlds': Canadian author reveals what it was like to write children's books with Kobe Bryant
Wesley King and the basketball icon co-wrote The Wizenard Series — and the latest instalment was just released
Originally published on May 6, 2020
Wesley King was in a fishing boat off the coast of rural Nova Scotia when he got the email that would change his life: basketball icon Kobe Bryant wanted to talk about writing a children's book together.
King had already written several acclaimed kids' books, among them OCDaniel, an award-winning youth novel about a 13-year-old with OCD, as well as The Incredible Space Raiders from Space!, A World Below and The Vindico.
But none of them had involved collaborating with one of the sports world's all-time greats.
"Talk about a clash of worlds," says King with a laugh in an interview with q host Tom Power.
That night, King and Bryant hopped on a call and hit it off. As a voracious reader, Bryant had already read all of the author's books and was a fan; within a couple of days, King was on a plane making his first trip to Los Angeles.
"It seems like the most prototypical Canadian-coming-to-L.A. moment ever, because I had loafers, shorts, a softball shirt and a ball cap on. And I went to this high-powered office in Newport Beach," says King with a laugh.
"I walk into his glass office, and he's sitting in this massive celebrity desk. There's a 20-by-20 picture of a black mamba snake on the wall, this super villain archetype. And then he just stands up and gives me a hug and says, 'Are you ready?' And I was like, 'Let's do it.'"
'Encouraging kids to believe in themselves'
The "it" became The Wizenard Series, a youth fiction series that mixes sports and the supernatural — Bryant was also a huge Harry Potter fan — as it follows the ups and downs of youth basketball.
The latest instalment, The Wizenard Series: Season One, was released in April, two months after the NBA legend died along with his daughter and six others in a helicopter crash.
The novel picks up where the previous book, The Wizenard Series: Training Camp, left off, with the youth basketball team the West Bottom Badgers at the bottom of their league. The book follows Reggie, a benchwarmer who works tirelessly to improve his game, but the gym is mysteriously impeding his progress.
The book instantly hit number one on the New York Times' middle-grade hardcover bestsellers list, and on the Amazon bestsellers list.
"They're a down-on-their-luck basketball team that's visited by this magical coach who challenges them to look inside themselves, to confront their own fears, their own insecurities, and to become the ball players — and ultimately the men, that they can be," says King.
"So it's this very positive, uplifting story about how we can work on ourselves to become what we dream of being."
King says the story isn't typical of middle-grade books, in that it doesn't involve an obvious villain that the protagonist must defeat. Instead, it's about challenging the negative voices within.
"This is more moving inward and using magic to challenge the doubts and insecurities in ourselves. So there are stories in here about things like body image, and assuming responsibility for our families — all these types of issues that manifest themselves into these magical, cool challenges that we have to confront and identify in our everyday lives," says King.
"And this was along those lines of the Mamba Mentality," says King, referring to Bryant's personal and professional philosophy. "Encouraging kids to believe in themselves is the pure message at the heart of all this."
'Post-it notes everywhere'
The writing sessions with Bryant were fun, says King, and even "a little zany at times." Bryant loved to throw around ideas, and one time King was on a trip on the Mediterranean Sea when the basketball star asked him to fly back to Los Angeles as soon as possible.
"I docked in Tunisia and got on a plane. I think I was in L.A. three days later. And his office was just covered in Post-it notes. He'd been writing maniacally, Post-it notes everywhere," says King with a laugh.
"And that helped shape this next part of our book. So it was all very spur of the moment."
Of course, Bryant had more than enough to keep him busy — his family, sports, multiple businesses, philanthropic work, public speaking. So why did he want to foray into children's books?
"He was this phenomenal coach, this phenomenal dad. And this was a venue to sort of share some of those values with the world at large," says King.
"I think he knew he had a captive audience, especially of maybe young, impressionable readers, and he wanted to give them the kind of positive messaging he gave his own daughters. And so there was this really pure motive behind it."
'The sweet part of it'
King says that in losing Bryant, he not only lost a professional collaborator, but also a close friend. The basketball great's untimely death "was like a sucker punch to the stomach," says King. For weeks he felt like he was in a daze — then realized it wasn't what Bryant would have wanted.
"Kobe believed in this confidence and moving on and getting back up no matter what comes at you. That sort of shook me out of it a little bit," he says.
To see his values and his message continue to live on, and that legacy to spread, that's the sweet part of it.- Wesley King
Seeing their latest book released is bittersweet, he adds, because the two had planned to writing books together in perpetuity.
"So that part's hard. But on the plus side, I'm seeing the books went to number one on the New York Times again and are being translated again, and being spread around the world," says King.
"So to see his values and his message continue to live on, and that legacy to spread, that's the sweet part of it."
Written by Jennifer Van Evra. Interview produced by Vanessa Nigro.