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The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul Paperback – October 4, 2005
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While the book is a hoot for basketball fans, Jackson's experiences also offer lessons for anyone dealing with chaos. ("Time")
About the Author
Phil Jackson is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the NBA. In his fourteen seasons as a head coach, he is 832-316, the best winning record in NBA history. He also holds NBA coaching records for most playoff wins and playoff winning percentage. Prior to coaching, he played thirteen years in the NBA, primarily with the New York Knicks. He is also the author of Maverick, Sacred Hoops, and, with his friend Charley Rosen, More Than a Game.
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Right on the first page, Jackson writes that he "didn't want this book to be about the small petty gossip that makes up a lot of the NBA world" (p. 1). Don't worry, there is plenty of gossip in this book. He does not bore the reader with X's and O's, although there is some strategy explained when discussing different match-ups. A lot of this book is about Jackson's relationship with owner Jerry Buss, general manager Mitch Kupchak, opinions on such NBA spokesmen as Dallas Maverick's coach Mark Cuban, Rick Fox and Karl Malone's frustration over injuries, Gary Payton's tantrums about the triangle offense, and, of course, the on-going feud between Kobe and Shaq. The book is written like a journal but is very comprehensive and flows very well. I was fascinated by the behind-the-scenes look at the Lakers organization. Their preparation for games I found to be very interesting. At one point in the season, Jackson exposed his players to an aspect of his Buddhist beliefs with a meditation session (Jackson admits he does not think it affected most of the players). He also had clips from the movies Shrek or Miracle on Ice inserted in their film sessions (p. 191). Jackson is candid about Kobe's ball-hogging tendencies and Shaq's abysmal free throw shooting. During the Houston series in the playoffs, Shaq practiced shooting free throws from a foot back which Jackson thought was less than constructive (p. 162). Often, Jackson compares his Laker teams unfavorably to his Bulls teams in terms of preparation and attitude towards the game. Jackson's complaints throughout the book on everything from game start times (p. 95), fines (p. 96), and foul calls (many pages) made me think the coach of the Sacramento Kings wrote the book.
Of course, Shaq and Kobe is the draw to this book, and Jackson does not disappoint the readers. A lot of the petty squabbles are described here. Some of the high lights include Kobe and Shaq only wanting certain photographers (the opposite for each) filming them during practice (p. 110). The Lakers helped pay for Kobe's flights to Colorado for his hearings and Kobe complained the plane was not luxurious enough (p. 32). One of the bad omens in the Detroit series was Shaq blowing up at 82-year-old assistant coach Tex Winter (pp. 232-33). Then, in the end, Kobe tells Jackson he no longer wants to be Shaq's "sidekick" thus completing the stage for Shaq's exit (p. 258). Jackson visited a therapist to help him deal with the Shaq/Kobe factor. Of course, Jackson probably only covers the tip of the iceberg, but it still makes for fascinating reading. Check out this eyebrow-raising line: "This was another example of the basic difference between him [Shaq] and Kobe. Ask Shaq to do something and he'll say: "No, I don't want to do that." But after a little pouting, he will do it. Ask Kobe, and he'll say, "okay," and then he will do whatever he wants" (p. 38). After reading this book, I cannot believe the rumors that Jasckson will return as coach of the Lakers. No way. But, then again, after reading Terrell Owens' book, I never would've guessed he would fire his beloved agent and seek a new contract with Philly, so one never knows. Whether you are a Laker hater, a Laker fan, or are just fascinated with the personalities of the NBA, I definitely recommend this book.
Much of the book is devoted to Jackson's attempts to meld strong, willful personalities that often did not get along into a team. The season started really in the off-season with the acquisition of Gary Payton and Karl Malone, two future Hall of Famers who many felt would ensure the Lakers of another NBA Championship. Then the house of cards started falling. First, Kobe Bryant was accused and later charged with rape in Colorado, resulting in Kobe having to spend a good deal of the season flying back and forth from Eagle, Colorado to Los Angeles and must have caused a great deal of distraction for the team. Then Gary Payton, one of the best point guards in NBA history, finds he can't adjust to the triangle offense. Worse, Payton, so highly regarded for his defensive acumen he attained the nickname "The Glove," can't guard anyone. Then Karl Malone goes down with a knee injury that limited his play throughout most of the season. And to top it all off, Bryant and O'Neal spent much of the season snipping at each other - often through the press.
Not surprisingly Jackson spends a lot of time in the book talking about his relationship to his players, notably Kobe Bryant. He describes Bryant as a narcissistic personality with unbelievable talent. His relationship with Bryant grew so bad that he consulted a psychiatrist during the season. Most of his efforts with Bryant were simply directed at getting him to play within the structure of the triangle offense and within the team instead of as an individual. O'Neal he seems to have a great deal of affinity for. He does, however, imply that O'Neal is a bit thin skinned and at times a little soft in his preparation for games and in playing defense. But undoubtedly he saw O'Neal as the lynchpin in the Lakers championship runs and their prospects to win another. While Jackson spends time talking about his other players as well - particularly Payton, Malone, and Rick Fox - not surprisingly most of his time is devoted to discussing Bryant and O'Neal. It does make for fascinating reading, especially his strategies to get the players to get along and play as a team. Obviously, he ultimately failed in this task in 2003-2004.
Jackson spending so much time discussing personalities and relationships in the book is not surprising. So much of winning in professional sports is the ability to take individuals of great talent and create a team. Much of the rest of the book is devoted to basketball strategy, game preparation, and detailed accounts of the Lakers season and playoffs. If you are a basketball fan this part of the book will be interesting as well. And Jackson does a great job of intertwining and subtly making clear why the personal interactions between the players and between the players and their coaches is as important as X's and O's in winning championships. Winning championships is as much as about functioning together as unit as it is strategy and talent.
One has to take a first person account such as Jackson's for what it is, one person's side of the story. Intuitively I find Jackson's words to be heartfelt and honest. Not only does he blame himself and point out some of his own failings, but his descriptions of his players, particularly Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, are borne out by other accounts (mainly the media) of their personality and clashes. And he has, after all, won 9 NBA championships.