Phil Jackson's book isn't packed with gossip and revelations like I thought it would be. Truth be told, all the gossipy stuff about Kobe Bryant came out in the excerpts in the press before the book was released on Oct. 21.
For such a fascinating train-wreck of a team that the 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers were, Jackson's book comes across as a little dull. I'm a die-hard Laker fan and most of the information here I had already gathered from reading the newspapers or watching ESPN.
This book is a very fast read. In its pages you get insight into Jackson's unorthodox coaching techniques (meditation, Eastern philosophy, etc.), how he copes with the intrusive sports press, how he massages the Lakers' gargantuan egos, and how he manages a relationship with his boss's daughter (who also happens to be a Laker executive).
The part of the book detailing the regular season has some juicy behind-the-scenes details, but if you've read the excerpts, then you know them already. By the time you get to the 2004 playoffs, it's nothing but basketball jargon.
The sudden implosion of the Lakers following their NBA Finals defeat was jarring and Jackson covers it well. Overall, Jackson's relationship with Kobe Bryant is more complex than the newspapers will have you believe. Kobe is portrayed as a supremely talented but tragically narcissistic character whose search for happiness through basketball will ultimately prove unfulfilling. He's not the next Michael Jordan, folks. As a matter of fact, he's not even CLOSE.
Shaq is portrayed as a big baby and has his flaws, but overall is a good person with a terrific sense of humor. It's telling that Phil Jackson writes how he turned down an executive position with the Lakers, partly in protest of L.A. trading O'Neal to Miami.
Jackson is a little more humane with Gary Payton than I would have been, but that's just me. Karl Malone comes across as a true pro as do Derek Fisher and Rick Fox--the ultimate team guys. Jackson also believes that Devean George wastes his talents on the hardwood, but anyone who regularly follows the Lakers already knows that.
Perhaps the saddest section of the book comes when the Lakers cut role player Jannero Pargo for salary cap reasons. His tearful goodbye to the team is the most moving part of the book. It also illustrates a common, but frequently ignored facet of professional sports: the cold realities of a talented athlete who has to face the fact that he is unable to compete at the professional level.
Overall, I still like the NBA, but Jackson's so-so book only hints upon the broader problem with a league that focuses too much on individual talent and not enough on team skills. The implosion of the Lakers should be a warning to the league to change its act and its marketing skills or professional basketball might end up like (*GULP!*) hockey.