"I just got an email one day, that was mostly exclamation marks, from my agent saying that Kobe wanted to work on something." Imagine being a young writer of fantasy books for young adults and then one day, out of the blue, Kobe writes to ask if you'd like to collaborate on a book series. That's exactley what happened to Wesley King.
Wesley is a young author with 8 novels behind him (The Vindico, The Feros, OC Daniel) who developed the Wizenard universe with Kobe and wrote first of many books to come; "The Wizenard Series - Training Camp" We talked to Wesley and found out all about the story and how was it working with a man who demands nothing but excellence.
How did this project start, did you pitch the idea to Kobe or was it the other way around?
He actually reached out to me. He read one of my books and seen some of my YouTube videos. He reached out to me, I just got an email one day, that was mostly exclamation marks, from my agent saying that Kobe wanted to work on something. I didn’t really know what to think about that, cause this was two years ago and I didn’t know Kobe was into storytelling, nobody had really known at that point. We hopped on the line, I flew out there and we sort of hit it off.
Are you a basketball fan, and more importantly, a Lakers fan?
Funny enough I’m a Toronto Raptors fan which is the team that Kobe had beaten up on the most through his career. So Kobe was villain no.1 for me as a basketball fan. I told him that the first day I met him, that I’d had to look past that. That 81 point game.
As a basketball fan, you know Kobe has a reputation of being extremely demanding. A lot of players couldn't keep up with his pace and expectations. Was it like that with the book as well or did he defer to you, as writing is your home court?
It was funny, I had a preconceived notion of who he was, that Mamba mentality, that sort of villainous persona that he had on the court. It was not like that at all when I met him. He certainly brings the same level of dedication and the same energy to everything he does. He was on me at the beginning of the process, we talked every day, he would call every time he had an idea. But, he did say “You’re the writer and I want you to stretch your legs and run with it.” Demanding as he is, all he demands is that people do the best they can, and I can respect that.
Kobe created it, you wrote it. How much of the story was developed when Kobe reached out?
His pitch was Harry Potter meets the Olympics, the transformative power of sports. This story is really unique, it's five characters, five books in a book. A ten-day training camp from five perspectives. A magical coach shows up and works with inner-city kids.
In the early days, we had a very vague idea, and we developed it together. People should know how intrinsically involved he is, and he’s humble in saying he created it but took no part of the writing. It was a very collaborative experience. We were talking daily, he was very involved in the editorial process.
Will we recognize any of Kobe's former teammates and coaches in some of the characters?
Phil Jackson is the most prominent coach that brought philosophy and the metaphysical to the game. Kobe was very up front that he wanted Wizenard to be a Phil Jacksonesque character. I think Kobe adopted that approach, he coaches all the time now, he coaches his daughters. He certainly approaches it this way as well.
What was it like writing about basketball knowing that Kobe would have to approve it? There is a lot of drills and workouts in the book.
I was a basketball player as well, but I definitely would go to Kobe constantly go over the drills. This book is fantasy, but it’s also a lot of solid basketball fundamentals. There are training regiments, there are drills. In the early draft we had the kids learning how to play the triangle but that was a bit outdated now, so we dropped the triangle.
Harry Potter transcended kids and fantasy fans. Can a basketball fan that isn't into fantasy get his dose of the game?
Absolutely, in both ways, and a fantasy fan that doesn’t like basketball. They’re supplemental of each other, you’ll find what it is and the real resonating theme in the book is the journey the kids go on, confronting their fears, facing their vulnerability. Those central themes like abandonment, self-esteem issues, dealing with loss. Everyone can find something that can reflect their interests.
"The Wizenard Series" implies more books. What can we expect next?
We’re gonna see where it goes, One of the characters in the story, who’s not one of the five, but is hinted at, his story is up next. We back this stuff up, we’re working with psychologists, sports psychologists, PHD's. We want it to be authentic and resonate with kids. The same way Harry Potter grew with his audience and got more mature.
One last question, for all us basketball players that can't dunk. You went to NASA as a kid and a scientist there told you how tall you would be as an adult? Did they have any advice for dunking?
Yeah, and I have no idea how he did it. My current age, my shoe size and my current height. From there he extrapolated how tall I was gonna be and it was spot on. I’m 6’7 so it was kinda’ cool thing meeting Kobe we’re basically eye-to-eye, I have a little bit of height on him which I don’t think he expected.