Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lessons Learned from Phil Jackson's Book "The Last Season: A Team in Search of It's Soul"

"I'm going eighty miles per hour, just my bike and my thoughts." And so Phil Jackson begins his book "The Last Season" which chronicles the 2003-2004 Lakers. When the book was released, Phil's inner thoughts about Lakers Management and Kobe Bryant caused a great deal of controversy. Writing about this book six years later, I am striking while the iron is scorching hot.

My desire to read "The Last Season" is singular. I wanted to read all of the dirt that Phil wrote about Kobe during a period of time that he was extremely bitter after Kobe forced Phil out of LA. Though Phil clearly states in the prologue that he "didn't want this book to be about the small petty gossip that makes up a lot of the NBA world", the book is overflowing with the small petty gossip that makes up the NBA world.

While my thirst for Kobe gossip was quenched in spades, this is not all I got from Phil's book. Phil is often referred to as "the Zen Master", a wise basketball master (see his other book "Sacred Hoops" connecting Buddhism and basketball). It would be wrong if I didnt come away from his book with a few lessons learned. Here is but a few:

1. Phil Jackson is extremely pretentious

His opening sentence (see above) is clear evidence of this. First of all: Am I the only one who feels like someone supposedly riding 80 miles an hour on a bicycle should be focused on his road or trail and not on Kobe Bryant? I hate bikers. It fits that Phil Jackson is a biker, in Montana, alone with his thoughts, his bike and he are one.

Throughout the book (especially early and late) Phil drops disgusting worthy nuggets of pretension.
"Teamwork is a nebulous thing, It is as ephemeral as love" (1)
"I need to decelerate, allowing the natural beauty of the landscape to usher in serenity. Before me, I saw forever, nothing and everything" (6)
Give me a break. You are a basketball coach. You are a glorified babysitter. There are a lot of reasons that being a Jazz-fan is gratifying. Knowing that Jerry Sloan would literally rather travel back in time, get drafted in World War II, and finally be put on the front lines at Normandy than write that slime is one of them.

2. Phil Jackson is a liar
In the last paragraph of his prologue (which is not a prologue so much as an introduction) Phil Jackson thanks Lakers fans. He spews smelly garbage about he "wanted to walk off the court and shake your hands and applaud you for your support." Especially noting those in the upper bowl. The working man. In theory this is a nice sentiment.

But sorry working-class Lakers fans (who I have spent many playoff games rubbing shoulders with in the upper bowl of the once and future Delta Center), Phil Jackson does not care about you. I know this first hand. My eyes have seen the glory of Phil Jackson's lies.

Many years ago, during a time when the Rocky Mountain Revue (R.I.P.) was held in the Delta Center, I got out of school and went down early to get good a good seat to see the stars of tomorrow. Jamie Watson! My seat was so good in fact that I was able to sit directly behind the participating teams' personnel. Phil Jackson was literally one row in front of me evaluating players while in his last seasons with the Bulls. Towards the end of the day a couple kids in Michael Jordan jerseys scuttled down the aisle past me and very politely approached Phil. "Hey Phil, can we get your autograph?" they asked. Phil barely looked at them and coldly told them "No." No more no less. The kids hung their heads and climbed back up the steep stairs of the arena.

Thats not all. Soon after the kids were gone, Phil beckoned a nearby usher. Phil than launched into a tirade. Yelling at this poor fool, he ordered him to not allow anyone to get near him. But go ahead. Stop Phil to shake his hand. You deserve it.

3. Kobe Bryant is an angry child

Like I said earlier, this book was released immediately following Phil's exit from the Lakers, which was orchestrated by Kobe. Let us just say that Phil opens the gates and the sewage starts a-flowin. Not only does Phil explain why he isn't surprised that Kobe was being charged with rape (10), but says that the he had been told that Kobe often sabotaged his high school games so that he could receive the glory when he bailed him out at the end. Whoa. This is awesome.

Kobe's behavior sounds eerily similar to the behavior of my little brother. Kobe pouts after "Shaq didnt call me this summer." (17) Kobe fakes sick so he doesnt have to go to practice (22). The Lakers pay for private jets to fly Kobe back and forth from his hearings in Colorado, and Kobe complains about the type of jet he is forced to use (32). Kobe threatens that if the Lakers keep treating him like this he is going to the Bulls AND he is taking Slava Mevedenko with him. KOBE NOT SLAVA! Finally Kobe is put in timeout for a week (100).

Phil lets it known that he has wanted the Lakers to trade Kobe from his first year in LA onwards. He says that he begged the Lakers to trade Kobe in 1999 to the Suns in exchange for Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion. That would have been a really interesting team. A young Jason Kidd and a young Shawn Marion alongside a DOMINANT Shaq. I think that team would have still won as many championships. I'll even go out on a limb and say they may have won one more. Kidd was an MVP candidate even in 2004 when the Lakers lost to Detroit. Marion I think could have been forged into a Scottie Pippen type player under Phil. Interesting.

4. Phil had little respect for the Utah Jazz and Karl Malone

Phil explains that Lakers owner Jerry Buss first brought up the possibility of acquiring Karl Malone in 2001. Phil quickly rejects this idea because his game has dropped off since the mid 1990's. Mid 1990's? Hey Phil didn't Karl win the MVP twice in the LATE 1990's? Didnt he lead an inferior Jazz team to two straight NBA Finals giving your Bulls your toughest series?

He also has no love for Utah. When Karl becomes a free agent in 2003, he states that he has "finally" decided to leave Utah. Hey Phil, you keep talking about how much you love the frozen tundra you call Montana. Thanks of leaving Utah for the rest of us.

5. ... but he learns respect

He also clearly didn't have any respect for Karl Malone previous to his season with the Lakers, because Phil time and time again throughout the book seems so surprised and enamored with what he sees from Karl. He drops an awesome Karl Malone story in which he tries to get a hold of Karl and is told that he just went out riding his bike. He asks when he usually returns, 4 hours they say (71). Even Phil admits he didn't realize the dedication this guy possesses.

Phil later mentions how moved he is by Karl's words at the beginning of the season to the team about how much a championship would mean to him (23). He is blown away about Karl's willingness to learn after almost two decades in the league to learn, and his seemingly boundless energy.

Phil develops a full blown man crush on Karl as the Lakers enter the playoffs by shutting down a young Yao Ming, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett before injuring his knee. Late in the book Phil laments that they probably would have won if not for Karl's injury calling Karl the MVP of the Lakers during the postseason. To illustrate how far he came in his view of Karl Malone, he tells a story about how in the Finals as the Lakers are being dismantled by the Pistons, Kobe, Derek Fisher, and Rick Fox come to his office and ask him to start Devon George instead of the injured Karl. Phil can not bring himself to do it due to the respect that he has for Karl and the defense he has played throughout the playoffs (239).

As Phil states (232) Karl Malone is a "true warrior".

6. I'm pretty sure Phil is secretly a lame nerd

The immortal phrase "cool, calm, collected" is often used in relationship to the so-called "Zen Master". However, the book gives me the impression that Phil was probably picked on at school. A lot. Phil sneaks into the book a few refrences to his never touched upon career playing for the New York Knicks. Every anecdote gives the impression that he stinks. He tells a story about being benched for screwing up an inbounds pass (71) and quickly mentions that he rode the pine frequently. A quick check to Basketball Reference confirms this showing he had a career average of 6.7 points per game and 4.3 rebounds per game. The Greg Foster of his day he was.

At one point in the book, for reasons that remain unclear, Phil tells a bizarre story about being caught on his high school team's bus with a pornographic novel (117). Not a pornographic magazine. A novel. Really? I guess egg-head would rather read about filth than see it. NERD!

Then there is this.

7. Raja Bell is going to be great for the Jazz

A few times in the book Phil mentions that Kobe often gets caught up in personal battles to fill an inner need to prove his manhood. Phil is careful to explain that when Kobe does this the Lakers tend to not play well and often lose.

He takes the time to point out one specific time that this happens. It happens with then Jazzman Raja Bell (138). Kobe scores 34 but takes 23 shots and 21 FT's. Phil later on mentions that the Lakers are at their most dangerous when in the first half they get the ball inside (Shaq then, Gasol now) and let Kobe look for his shot late. If Raja can force Kobe into a few of those games this season, we are in good shape. It bears mentioning that the last time the Jazz won in Staples, Raja had a big game.

8. Despite exposing Kobe as a child, Phil is a baby

Phil spends a lot of time blaming Lakers losses on everything but himself throughout the book. This is especially true after the Lakers destruction at the hands of the Pistons which he blames out right on the officials.

He also becomes extremely bitter anytime the Lakers lose and oddly starts calling people out including Mark Cuban (multiple times) and celebratory Mike Bibby following a big three (118). The bitter diversions come often and are extremely out of place and usually take up quite a bit of space.

Quick Hits from the Book
- Derek Fisher is a bad regular season player, but man is he clutch.
- Shaq has to wear orthopedic shoes (76)
- This happened this season.
- He explains why the Nuggets lost to the Jazz in last years playoffs and why I think that Kevin Durant nearly killed Chauncey Billups during the World Championships this year on 224. Billups is a chucker, and when its on (like in the 2004 Finals) its good, when its not (the last 3 years) its very very bad. Nuggets fans are crying because of the truthiness of this statement right now.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Lucasfilm is the absolute worst for not letting this happen . . .