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The current Lakers’ season has been a challenging one. If there was a single year that would have fans longing for a previous era of glory, this one would certainly be it. Well, for those wanting some nostalgia and great insight in one of the great dynasties in league history, you are in luck.

On March 4th, Jeff Pearlman’s SHOWTIME: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s was released for mass consumption. You can get your copy here. The book offers fantastic stories, great memories, and a behind the scenes look into the people who made up one of the most dominant runs the NBA has ever seen. What follows is an excerpt on Pat Riley. Enjoy.

showtime

By Jeff Pearlman

I spent about two years working on Showtime, and it was an absolute joy. The book chronicles the Lakers dynasty from 1979-91, and while there were dozens of fascinating characters, few were as riveting as Coach Pat Riley.

When he was hired to replace Paul Westhead, Riley was a casual, easy-going man who was beloved by his players. With success, however, came an ever-growing ego. By the time the Lakers met Detroit in the 1989 NBA Finals, Los Angeles had a real problem.

Pat Riley could have waited. A day. Two days, perhaps. He could have taken some time to think about his players and his team; whether they would be best served by peace and solitude and a light work load; whether a veteran point guard who had endured 2,886 minutes in the regular season and a forty-two-year-old center and a battered roster would, perhaps, benefit from some time away from the court, sitting on a beach or inside a movie theatre or at home with the wife and kids.

He could have. He chose not to. Following the series-clinching win over Phoenix to reach the 1989 NBA Finals, Riley was asked by Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune whether he would allow for a period of rest and relaxation. The coach didn’t pause to consider a reply. “Our players,” he said, “will wish that this series went longer. It will be a very hard week for them. The practices will be tough. Now is no time to relax.”

On the morning of May 31, the Lakers traveled ninety-five miles north to Santa Barbara, where they would spend much of the subsequent three days locked inside the Westmount College gymnasium (aka: the depths of basketball hell). Three hours before the first two p.m. practice, the team bus stopped at the luxurious Biltmore in Montecito, a hotel that charged $500 per night for a room. This was Riley’s little touch—a carrot in front of the wagon. Rich basketball players like fancy accommodations, and the coach surely thought his men would be wooed by the fine linens and a top- shelf room-service menu. He was, however, wrong.

The members of the Los Angeles Lakers were pissed off.

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I received my copy of Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings  on Friday and immediately delved into the 334 page journey through Phil Jackson’s 11 (well actually, 13) championships (two as a player). The book begins, however, with Jackson describing the Lakers’ 2009 championship parade.

“Here I was sitting in a limo at the ramp leading into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, waiting for my team to arrive, while an ecstatic crowd of ninety-five thousand plus fans, dressed in every possible combination of Lakers purple and gold, marched into the stadium. Women in tutus, men in Star Wars storm-trooper costumes, toddlers waving “Kobe Diem” signs. Yet despite all the zaniness, there was something inspiring about this acnient ritual with a decidedly L.A. twist. As Jeff Weiss, a writer for LA Weekly, put it: iIt was the closest any of us will ever know what it was like to watch the Roman Legions returning home after a tour of Gaul.'”

That was the second paragraph on the first page of Eleven Rings, and after reading that PJax “never loved being the center of attention” I couldn’t really put the book down this past weekend.

Eleven Rings is more than just a relentless foray in to the countless bumps in the road, the countless numbers of characters and egos he had to balance, and foreign techniques used to band groups of men together to win championships, it’s also a tremendous walk down memory lane, whether you’re a Knicks, Bulls or Lakers fan, through some great times.

While Jackson spends a large chunk of the book discussing his years and New York and Chicago, the efforts of this post will be focused on his time in Los Angeles.

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In any field of endeavor, prodigious talent is idolized, achievement rewarded, lasting greatness immortalized. What then, of transcendent talent that achieves not only greatness, but actually furthers the evolution of the endeavor in which it is deployed?

Whatever his place in the Pantheon of basketball greats, that Earl Monroe is one of NBA history’s most important players is beyond question.

And when I had the opportunity to sit with Monroe at the SNY studio in midtown, where was promoting his fascinating, newly released  autobiography, “Earl the Pearl,” that is what most engrossed me. I didn’t care about 17,454 points, or four All-Star selections, or that he was a Hall of Famer. This guy truly matters in the history of the NBA. This man Changed. The. Game.

The modernization of the NBA game is, by its very definition, a collaborative effort. Bob Cousy married style and substance like no superstar before him. Monroe not only carried on the work of pro basketball’s original maestro, he infused it with a level of flair and artistry only just being refined in the game’s blacktop laboratories. The clinical trial for every Pete Maravich, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd and White Chocolate that’s arrived since. Monroe delivered to the NBA the style and spirit of the playground like no one before. His signature back-and-forth, “windshield wiper” dribble – really an ancestor of the modern day crossover – that [insert legendary Olympic ice skater name here]-tight spin move, the change of pace dribble as a weapon, the double-pump, the pump fake… Earl Monroe redefined the way the backcourt game was played in the NBA.

I grew up on the playmaking stylings of Magic Johnson. It was difficult to avoid the sense that the game he was playing differed from that of his opponents. I’d venture that anyone who witnessed the early days of Earl Monroe’s NBA career had a similar experience.

By the time he was dubbed him “the Pearl” early in his senior season in college, Monroe had already picked up “Jesus” (how’s that for a nickname), “Black Magic” and “Thomas Edison,” for his on-court inventiveness. Not bad for a dude that didn’t take up basketball until his early teens.

In 1963, after starring at John Bartram High, he headed down the East coast, to Division II Winston-Salem State University. In four years under the tutelage of Hall of Fame coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines, Monroe grew into superstar befitting his playground monikers. After averaging 7.1 points per game as a freshman, he more than tripled his output, scoring 23.2 and grabbing seven rebounds per game as a sophomore, and continued ascent, dropping 29.8 points (on 56.3% from the floor and 86.6% from the line) and grabbing 6.7 boards per game as a junior. Already a star, Monroe’s senior season and cemented his place among the singular greats of the college game, as he averaged an awesome 41.5 points (on 60% shooting) and 6.8 rebounds per game, earned the 1967 Division II Player of the Year award (in addition to a second All America selection) and led Winston-Salem State to the NCAA’s Division II Championship.

In the summer of ‘67, the Baltimore Bullets used the second pick (behind Jalen Rose’s dad) in the NBA draft to acquire Monroe’s services. He proved an immediate revelation, averaging 24.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game en route to the 1967-68 Rookie of the Year award. One night during his rookie campaign – on February 13, 1968 to be precise – Monroe hung 56 on the Lakers. Sadly, a combined 79 from Jerry West and Elgin Baylor kept the Bullets from victory, but the explosion set a franchise record that stood for nearly four decades (it was broken by Gilbert Arenas in 2006), and remains the fourth highest single game total by a rookie in NBA history. Four times in the 48 years since has a rookie gone off for 50+ – not one has managed to wrest from Monroe his place on the all-time list, behind a pair of 58’s by Wilt in 1960 and 57 by Rick Barry in December 1965. Beyond permanently etching Monroe’s name in the annals of franchise and league history, on a personal level the outburst provided Monroe with indelible proof of his place in the game:

Coming into the league, I remember having seen all these guys play. And you have a certain amount of respect for these guys, and it’s especially exciting to actually play against them. And Jerry was one of those guys. When we used to talk about him we’d say that Jerry could stop on a dime and give you nine cents change (laughs), so it was exciting.”

An interesting thing about how our relationship began: we played Jerry at home, and during the game Jerry kept calling me ‘Ben,’ and I just said ‘ok,’ because I had no idea what he meant by that. But then I asked someone on the team and they said there’s a guy named Ben Monroe that played for New Mexico, and maybe he’s thinking you’re Ben Monroe. And he kept saying ‘good play, Ben’, ‘nice shot, Ben.’ And we lost the game to the Lakers, but I had 56 points, and he had 47. After the game, he came and he shook my hand and said ‘good game, Earl.’ So, that kind of let me know that I had made it into the NBA, that I had been welcomed into the NBA.”

The following season was individually Monroe’s best as a pro, as he averaged 25.8 points and 4.9 assists, while leading the Bullets (along with a rookie named Wes Unseld) to 57 wins – up 21 from his rookie year – and their first playoff berth in three seasons. Monroe continued to put up numbers, averaging 28.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4 assists in the playoffs, but shot just 38.6% as the Bullets were swept by the Knicks. The 1969-70 season mirrored its immediate predecessor, as the Bullets – led by Monroe’s 23.4 points and 4.9 assists per game – notched 50 regular season wins and once again crossed paths with the Knicks in the opening round. As they had the previous season, the Knicks proved too much for the Bullets, though an excellent showing from Monroe – 28 points and 4 assists per game, 48.1% FG, and a playoff career high 39 in Game 1 – pushed the eventual champs to a decisive seventh game.

As a team, the Monroe-era Bullets “peaked” in 1970-71, his last full season in Baltimore. Monroe’s scoring average dipped, to 21.4 points per game, and the team won eight fewer regular season games – though their 42-40 record was good enough to win an awe-inspiringly bad Central Division by six games. Upon landing in the postseason, however, the Bullets’ worm turned, as they outlasted the Hal Greer/Billy Cunningham-led 76ers and the now-familiar Knicks in seven games apiece to reach the NBA Finals, where they were dispatched in four games by Lew Alcindor, Oscar Robertson and the Bucks.

After the 1970–1971 season, amid a salary dispute with owner Abe Polin, Monroe’s agent informed the Bullets that his client would no longer play for the team, and that he wished to be traded to either the Lakers, Bulls or 76ers. In the opening days of the 1971–1972 season, with a deal yet to be made, Monroe traveled to Indianapolis to discuss a transfer to the ABA’s Indiana Pacers. The trip wound up serving as something of a wakeup call:

I had given the Bullets three teams that I wanted to be traded to: Philadelphia – which is where I was from – Chicago and L.A. I went out to Indiana to just see about maybe playing for the Pacers. And it was all well and good, great team, good organization. But after the game, I went to the locker room and over the top of their regular lockers there was a smaller locker, and guys were taking guns out of there. (Note: Monroe did not get into this with me, but in the book he mentions that the Pacers players brought to his attention, a certain threat). And I got really apprehensive. Back in those days we didn’t have cell phones, so I had to walk around the building to get to a pay phone, where I called my agent, Larry Fleischer, and told him, ‘Larry, I don’t think this is where I want to play!’

That’s when he informed me that ‘well, I’ve got a deal in place for you with New York.’ I thought he was kidding, because we had played against New York [in the playoffs] for the last three years, you know, like tooth and nail, they were hated, and I said ‘I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it.’ I went home and thought about it, talked to some friends, my mom, my sister, and what I came away with is that, I was always a scorer, so I had to think about that, but I could play anywhere, you know? I was a basketball player. I always prided myself on being from Philadelphia and really knowing how to play basketball. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do all the stuff I wanted to do as an individual, but I thought this would be another challenge.

Despite his wish list, the immediacy of the deal, along with his rapidly waning desire to join the Pacers, Monroe accepted the proposed trade to the New York Knicks. Understandably, there was initially some trepidation about joining not only a bitter rival – Monroe had faced the Knicks 45 times in his first four NBA seasons, 18 of those meetings in the playoffs, including seven-game battles in each of the last two postseasons – but one that featured an established core of veteran stars, including a dominant lead guard. With Walt “Clyde” Frazier in the driver’s seat, Monroe handled the ball less than ever. During the 1971-72 season, Monroe was hobbled by knees and ankle problems, which cut both his playing time (21.2 minutes per game) and scoring (11.9 points per game) nearly in half. However, the injuries that initially limited him in New York proved perhaps blessings in disguise, as Monroe was able to observe the team, learn its rhythm and acclimate to his new role and new mates – Clyde Frazier in particular:

They came in on my first day and welcomed me into the core. I’m sure Clyde had some apprehension, because here’s this guy who’s coming in to play the same position that he’s playing. But I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t stepping on any toes, because I was coming to his team, he wasn’t coming to my team, so I had to make the adjustments to make sure that this worked.

There wasn’t any real friction, it was just a matter of learning how to play with this new cadence. In Baltimore, I kinda judged everything through music, and I had my own cadence. When I came to New York, I had to adjust to Clyde’s cadence. And that was really the hard part, because when you have your own team, you know when to take over the game, you know when to give guys the ball, or different things that need to be done during the course of a game. Clyde had that here, and I needed to learn how to fit in with that.”

After playing a limited role in 1971-72’s near-title run, Monroe bounced back in 1972-73, playing nearly 32 minutes per game, regaining his efficiency (48.8% FG, v. 43.6% in 1971-72) and exhibiting his grasp of Clyde’s cadence en route to “Rolls Royce Backcourt” status and the 1973 NBA championship. By the end of the 1972-73 season Monroe had become a Madison Square Garden favorite. Although he averaged a relatively modest 15.5 points, his moves still dazzled, and he’d taken on added responsibilities as a perimeter defender. He routinely guarded the opponent’s best perimeter scorer, allowing Frazier more freedom to play the passing lanes.

The Knicks finished second in the Atlantic Division in ’72-‘73, setting the stage for another the Knicks-Bullets playoffs clash – only this time, Monroe was on an unfamiliar side. The Knicks made relatively short work of the Bullets, taking the series in five games, with Monroe averaging 21.8 per game, though it’s worth noting that he lit up his former mates to the tune of 27 per game in three victories at the Garden (including 32 – his career high as a Knick – in Game 2), while in Baltimore, he (not surprisingly) received a rather cool reception and (not coincidentally) managed just 27 points in two games. Monroe played a supporting role in the attack for the remainder of the postseason, as the Knicks topped the Boston Celtics, they of an NBA-best 68 game in the regular season, in six games, before toppling the defending champion Lakers in five to claimed the 1973 NBA title. Monroe eclipsed 20 points just three times in those final 11 games, but he played a vital role in helping the Knicks secure the crown, tallying 21 points in a Game 3 victory and a team-high 23 in the Game 5 clincher.

When they [the Lakers] won the championship in 1972, that was disheartening – that was very, very disheartening – but at the same time we felt as though we could come back and compete. We got the opportunity in ’73 to come back, and they had a great team, with Wilt and Gail Goodrich, Jim McMillan, actually I think Pat Riley was on that team, though he didn’t play much, Keith Erickson, Bill Bridges… they had a real formidable team and we knew that it would hard to beat them, but we felt confident after the first year because we really felt as though we should have played much better. And we won it in five games. It was a reversal of the way it had happened the year before. I think we won the first game and lost the next four, if I’m not mistaken (he’s not), and then in ’73 we lost the first game and won the next four.”

During the mid-1970s, Monroe continued to produce. He averaged 20.9 points per game in 1974-75, 20.7 in 1975-76, and 19.9 in 1976-77, and was twice named an All-Star. The Knicks, however, had seen their best days, and by 1979 were failing to qualify for the playoffs. Slowed by a series of serious knee injuries, which had plagued him throughout his career, Monroe retired in 1980, after 13 years in the NBA.

HOWEVAH…

The final chapter of Monroe’s career just happened to coincide with the arrival of another charismatic young playmaker, one who, like Monroe, was not blindingly fast or great leaper. As Magic Johnson prepared to take the NBA by storm, Monroe – now no longer commanding a star’s minutes – was seen as a potential mentor to the young superstar, and nearly a decade after first making eyes at the West coast, nearly wound up in forum blue and gold:

“It was my last year here in ’79-’80, and a guy from Philadelphia that played for the Lakers at one point and was working for them was a guy by the name of Walt Hazzard, and Hazz came into the locker room – we had played them here first – and he pulled me aside and told me ‘you know, we’re thinking about trying to trade for you, so that you can be like a caddy for Magic. Would you be amenable to that?’ At that point I wasn’t playing too much here in New York, and I thought about it and figured ‘Yeah!’, it would be a great way to leave the game, out there in Los Angeles. Later, when we played them in L.A. – I think it was January or February – he came back to me and asked me the same thing – ‘are you still ready to do that?’ – so I’m thinking it’s all ready to go down (laughs), and eventually, from what I understand, Jerry West put a word in and it wasn’t done. But that’s just speculation. I would have loved to go out there – Magic played pretty much the same type of game that I had, with the razzle-dazzle and no-look passes and what not…”

Asked if he ever asked Jerry West about that:

“No. Because I’m not sure that he did that, and even at that, for the most part Jerry’s a great guy, and we have a lot of respect for each other.”

In my final minutes with Mr. Monroe, having already spoken about the Lakers’ legends of the ’60, ‘70s and ‘80s, I had to get his thoughts on the latest Laker legend, and fellow Philly guy, Kobe Bryant:

“I’ve watched his career for a long, long time, since he got into the league, specifically because I played with his father, Jelly Bean, Joe Bryant. So, I’ve seen his game change and I’ve seen his attitude change, and the fact that he worked so hard to get to where he is, when you think about guys coming out of high school, some of those get the opportunity to play early on – he didn’t get that opportunity. He worked at it, and I was very impressed with that. And once he started playing, he set a new standard for how to play the game. I mean, when you think about Michael Jordan, you also have to think about Kobe Bryant.

And this year – I said it before the season (chuckles) ‘Kobe’s gonna have a bad back by the end of the season if he’s going to try and carry this team.’ But, to his credit, he willed them into the playoffs. There was so much controversy this season, with Howard coming in, he changed his game for a little bit of the season, he shot less, and then, later on, picked it back up when they needed it. So, you know, he’s one of my all-time guys, and I’m happy to know him, and to know that he’s from Philadelphia.”

Sincere thanks to Earl Monroe for his generosity, with both his time and his memories.

Yesterday, Jack McCallum’s highly anticipated book “Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles And The Greatest Team Of All Time Conquered The World And Changed The Game Of Basketball Forever” was released for purchase (you can get a copy here). A few of us here at FB&G were able to get an advanced copy of the book to review and, well, we loved it. What follows is our email conversation about the book…

Darius Soriano: First things first, what did you guys think of the book?

Phillip Barnett: Off top, it was just an absolutely fantastic read. I’m a bit younger than both of you, so I really only got to watch the tail end of the career of most of these guys (I was only five in the Summer of ’92). For me, I can only rely on ESPN Classic games and accounts like Jack McCallum’s “Dream Team” book to get a feel for how much this team meant to the game of basketball. That said, I think the best thing about this book is the format in which it was written. Instead of a long, drawn out chronological tale about how the Dream Team came about and how dominant they were, the book is broken down into 40-someting smaller chapters that allowed McCallum to tell a lot of the back stories that went into building this team and gave him the freedom to do a lot of character building — which isn’t always the case in non-fiction narratives. “Dream Team” reads more like a novel than it does a historical account of a hoops team, and it allows for younger guys like myself to learn a bit more about the individuals on the team, the relationships built and even some of the animosity between guys who were and were not on the Dream Team. Furthermore, the book takes a few “Where are they now” glances at some of the players with six interludes throughout the book which provide for some interesting — and some would even say juicy — nuggets in which the players didn’t hold back on their feelings on others on the team. In one of the interludes, Clyde Drexler suggested that Magic was getting the “benefit of the doubt” because people “kept expecting him to die” following his AIDS announcement and went on to suggest that there was nothing that Jordan could do that he could not. It was really those kind of anecdotes, and the more fun ones like Larry Bird and Patrick Ewing’s unexpected friendship, that kept me turning pages. Were there any back stories in particular that you two found more interesting than others?

J.M. Poulard: After reading multiple books on superstars who also happened to play on the Dream Team (Bird, Magic and Jordan), it always felt as though the 1992 Olympics served more as a footnote in their illustrious careers as opposed to one of its bigger events.

After reading “Dream Team”, that sentiment has been rendered null and void. McCallum covers all bases in order to give readers a detailed depiction of the team. Whether it’s the decision to finally allow NBA players to compete in the Olympics or the reasons that prevented the team from staying in the Olympic village; the author goes to great lengths for all to understand what actually transpired.

If there is one back story that struck me more than any, it’s the dynamic between Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.

Both were icons at the time and continue to be even today and the book captures that perfectly.

Magic had always exhibited a seemingly unparalleled ability to communicate with people — whether it’s teammates, opponents, coaches, media or fans — thanks in large part to his smile, charm and willingness to voice his opinions.

Michael on the other hand was known as a leader that practiced hard, led by example and chastised teammates whenever they failed him.

And yet in Barcelona, their personalities blended together as Magic serving as the team’s voice while Jordan was its motor and its heart. McCallum relates this perfectly and gives us the lenses to view the two leading alpha males on a team composed of such individuals.

It’s worth noting that “Dream Team” perfectly captures the pulse of the team through interviews and tales that were shared with Jack McCallum almost 20 years after the team won the gold medal in the 1992 Olympics.

Darius: I couldn’t agree more about MaCallum’s approach to the book. By giving readers the backstories to the players and then providing fascinating tidbits of information about the dynamics between them in the lead up to and throughout the Olympics, he gives readers an insider’s perspective that takes you along for the ride.

And, I also completely agree about how the Magic/MJ dynamic proved captivating. Having just met in the Finals a year prior to the formation of the team, it was clear that there was both a healthy respect and rivalry still at play between the teams’ two top names. In fact, I think Magic’s portrayal in the book is one of the more interesting aspects touched on.

McCallum did an excellent job of giving the reader so many sides of a very complex man within the context of this extraordinary team. Not only was there the Drexler interlude that touched on Magic’s HIV, but there was also how his disease served as a backdrop for Magic’s hands on approach to leadership and how it (seemingly) drove him to prove that he was still at the top of his game (and thus still one of the team’s best players) after not competing in the league since that Finals loss to Jordan (outside the 1992 All-star game).

On the other side, though, was the respect that Magic had amongst his peers, how his mates saw him as a genuine leader – and mouthpiece – for the team, and how his past accomplishments (remember, at that point Magic had 5 championships to his name whereas Jordan only had 2 while Bird had 3) gave him some bragging rights within the group. All of this combined to create a complex character that could rub his teammates the wrong way and inspire respect.

Besides the stuff on Magic, though, there were so many other parts of the book that stood out to me. The Bird/Ewing friendship, the Isaiah Thomas exclusion, the narrative surrounding how the NBA got involved in the Olympic process, and the behind the scenes descriptions of the now infamous practices and scrimmages were all so great.

What about for you guys? Was there one story in particular that stuck with you?

Phillip: Not to completely overdo the Magic aspect, but he really was one of the keys, not only in this book, but really in getting this whole team together. McCallum — and the Dream Team documentary a few months ago to some extent — spoke about how no one really thought the NBA’s brightest stars would buy into playing for the Olympic team. It was Magic who enthusiastically signed on first and helped push some of the other key guys (Bird and Jordan, namely) to join on as well. McCallum described Magic’s and Jordan’s leadership roles metaphorically when he said, “Magic was the Sun and Jordan was the North Star,” and there was a lot of truth to that. Like Darius noted, Magic was the vocal leader of the team and took on a lot of duties to make sure the  — how do you say this — general ideology of who this team was revolved around him. There were anecdotes about Magic taking number 15 so his name would be called last and him holding the flag when the team was introduced for the first time. But as much as the team revolved around him in almost every aspect off the court, Jordan was the unquestioned leader on the court as the team seeked his direction once the ball was in the air. I found that dynamic fascinating.

I also ate up everything on Barkley. Even though I really only remember his career as a Houston Rocket, he’s always been my favorite NBA player after Eddie Jones. I continue to save a special place in my heart for undersized forwards who can rebound the ball, but Chuck was one of those special, once in a lifetime kind of athletes. He often seemed overweight, but got off the ground so easily, was deceptively quick in the open court and was nearly unstoppable when he got a head of steam going toward the basket. Then you get to couple that generational talent with one of the most unique personalities the league has ever seen and you’ve got yourself one of the most memorable ball players ever. McCallum has a few Barkley anecdotes that really stuck out — one of them being that Larry Bird said he was a student of Barkley’s game and even added a few of his tricks to his own repertoire. The fact that such a talent almost missed out on the Dream Team is hard to wrap your head around. But the fact that his talent generally overrode his off the court antics speaks volumes just to how great he was.

Darius: Ah, good old Chuck. He definitely was one of the choice “characters” in this book.

The anecdote about Barkley that stood out the most to me had nothing to do with his escapades on the town in Barcelona, how his selection came about, or even is rivalry with Malone. It was how often it was hinted at that he was one of the most dominating forces on the team. I can’t recall how many times it occurred but multiple times coaches and teammates said that if the Dream Team ever needed a basket they could just “throw the ball to Charles”. Considering that team had Jordan on it, I thought that was the highest compliment that could be paid to him and his skill level at the time of the competition. He was an explosive force of nature that could play an all court game. I’m convinced we’ll see countless players of Jordan’s “type” (athletic wing players) before we ever see another player that’s like Barkley.

J.M.: Not too get too much away from the book, but I recall watching the Dream Team when I was younger and Barkley was by far one of the most athletically gifted players on the court at all times.

There were times it seemed as though he could breeze by guards on a fast break and his size was problematic for everyone.

For those only accustomed to Barkley through his TNT gig, McCallum does a great job of bringing us back to his playing days. Indeed, the Chuckster was a lethal weapon — fun fact, he led the team in scoring — that no one had an answer for.

It’s clear from the details of the book that Barkley always knew he was a great player, but showcasing his talent with the Dream Team gave him some validation that perhaps few remember today.

With that said, one of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the non-story of David Robinson. I have long theorized that the Admiral should have been one of the greatest players ever but he seemed to lack something.

McCallum provides some terrific insight into the player, but more importantly the man; and although it gives the readers a greater of appreciation of Robinson as an individual; one cannot help but feel cheated about the Spurs center.

For all of the criticism thrown at Shaquille O’Neal for not putting more into basketball, Robinson not only deserves the same amount throw his way, but perhaps more.

As great as he was as a center, he never had the edge needed to carry his team to the promised land and put the fear into the hearts of his opponents. And to his credit, Robinson is perfectly at ease with who he is and shows no sign of remorse whatsoever about how his career unfolded. Nonetheless, the question “what if” still looms…

Darius: I think we could go on and on with anecdotes and insights gleaned from this book. McCallum simply did a fantastic job of giving the reader so much information in an easy to consume format. At this point though, I’d rather not give away too much more and just suggest that everyone go out and buy the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Stop me if you have heard this before: Shaquille O’Neal has always been entertaining. Whether it’s in his press conferences before or after games, or simply being interviewed by reporters, the man never minced words and always found ways to keep the mood light all the while providing good sound bytes.

And thus, when news broke that O’Neal would be releasing his book, titled Shaq Uncut, it only made sense that most people affiliated with basketball would have an interest in giving it a read.

The Diesel is his usual candid self in Shaq Uncut, relaying stories about how tough his father Sergeant Phillip Harrison was on him during his formative years. We also get to see a lighter and slightly more fragile side of O’Neal when he shares just how shaken up he was with the death of his grandmother while playing for the Orlando Magic.

Also, we are treated to Shaq the father; as he shares details about the personalities of his kids and how much he enjoys being a parent.

But where this book hits home with its readers is through the basketball anecdotes. Indeed, we get details on O’Neal’s high school basketball career as well as the decision making process that landed him in Baton Rouge on the campus of LSU to spend his collegiate career.

And as intriguing as Shaquille O’Neal’s career was, there are a few items in his book that would be of great interest to Lakers fans.

For years, Jerry West was known as Mr. Clutch and he was also the face of the franchise during his playing days as well as for a stretch when he was the Lakers’ general manager. And make no mistake, West was a terrific GM; especially in the eyes of O’Neal.

The future Hall of Fame center takes the time to explain his fallout with the Orlando Magic and how Jerry West essentially understood him and thus helped him decide to come to Los Angeles. In addition, the way Shaq tells it, other than his father, no one seemed to be harder on the big man than the Logo and that help mold him into not only a league MVP but also a three-time Finals MVP long before Phil Jackson had arrived in Los Angeles.

Given all the love and loyalty that the former three-time NBA All-Star Game MVP had for the GM at the time, it was only natural that his relationship with the Lakers would change once West left the franchise.

O’Neal goes on to explain that he never trusted Mitch Kupchak and although Shaq himself does not state it, it does make you wonder if the issues Kobe had with management in the summer of 2007 were a result of the same reservations that Shaq had vis-à-vis the new general manager.

Shaq also revisits his relationship with Kobe in the book and explains some of the twists and turns it faced during his time in Los Angeles. Things became truly bad during the 2003-04 season between them as both of their egos clashed head on.

Although the friction between both has never been a secret, the conflict resolution was intriguing to say the least. O’Neal shares with us an unavoidable meeting that both he and Kobe needed to have in order to restore some sort of order in their relationship as well as the Lakers family. Shaq goes on to cite how a former Lakers player put himself front and center between both he and Bryant to help them patch things up.

The ability to confront such issues head on led to Shaq thinking that this former player would become the next Lakers coach (for the upcoming season), but instead the organization chose Mike Brown; a candidate that O’Neal agreed was good but that he had some reservations about given how certain issues were handled in Cleveland when Brown was the team’s head coach.

In Shaq’s eyes, Kobe Bryant will have the control of the team much like LeBron did in Cleveland. Mind you, the Diesel makes it quite clear that the Cavaliers did far too much to placate the Akron native and that the team suffered to some extent because of it.

But the most intriguing aspect of Shaq Uncut from my perspective is his amount of respect for Kobe. Indeed, the former league MVP may have dropped a few lines here and there with the intent of taking a few digs at Kobe, but it’s clear that O’Neal believes that Bryant is one of the all-time greats and then some.

O’Neal is quick to remind readers that he played with star players such as Penny Hardaway, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen; and yet none of them sound even half as good Kobe does in the book.

Shaquille O’Neal explains that Hardaway was soft and also gives some insights on what Wade, James and Nash are missing to truly make it to the next level while he intimates that Kobe is not only there but has been for quite some time.

Ultimately, I would encourage fans of the purple and gold to give Shaq Uncut a read because it gives some clarity on O’Neal’s career as well as his relationships with various NBA related people in each and every stop he has had during his playing days (Orlando, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston).

Shaq provides details on how his relationship with Jerry Buss deteriorated but yet manages to still find a place in his heart for him and gives the impression that he truly appreciates the Lakers heritage as well as how his legacy is tied to it.

Shaq Uncut will undoubtedly ruffle some feathers, but that’s just it; when a family member shares intimate details about the family, it usually causes a stir but ultimately we accept it because it comes from a relative.

And make no mistake, Shaquille O’Neal is part of the Lakers family.

LA Lakers at the LA Memorial Coliseum

The genre of the sports list book has received a new addition. This new series that has been released has gone to several of the major sports towns (or at least those with rabid sports fans) and tapped local sports personalities or journalists to create an insiders view of that city’s sports culture. A nice idea, as fans can become agitated by the broad brush strokes that the national media paints a certain town’s fans. In Philly they boo Santa Claus; in New York they are knowledgeable but ruthless; in Boston they’re die hard but eternally pessimistic; in Cleveland they know even when their team is good, at some point they will find a way to lose; and of course, we arrive late, leave early and talk on our cell phones the whole time. (See: “Top 10 Reasons People Say We’re Terrible Fans”) With any stereotype there is a grain of truth, but these books allow the individual city’s to create a more three dimensional view, through guest spots by local athletes and luminaries of the local sports culture.

The authors of the Los Angles book are Matt “Money” Smith and Steve Hartman. Money is the everyman fan in a lot of ways and he’s So Cal to the bone. In his bio at 570 KLAC he lists his favorite sports moment as “Heckling Jim Mcilvaine from the Forum stands and having him try to hop the railing to beat the crap out of me.” He was also an intern at KROQ and is known for breaking “a little band called Sublime.” (It’s also the reason he can sneak in the “Top 11 So Cal Punk Bands You’ve Never Heard of But Should Have” into a sports book.) Steve Hartman is knowledgeable and has a long historic view of sport, but in a lot of ways many see him as insufferable, especially Laker fans who have trouble with his pragmatism and criticism, dubbing him “Hater Hartman”. But for the cause that is the book, they are both good choices.

The book covers all aspects of LA sports: Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Angels, and Kings. For our Laker-centric purposes, we’ll focus on the section that highlights the boys in Forum Blue and Gold.

Top 10 Reasons For A Laker Fan To Own This Book:

1. It will fit nicely into your lavatory library. You can put it into the rotation with Brain Droppings and Nine Stories.

2. It will either enhance your depth of Laker history and take you on a wonderful stroll down memory Lane (Top 10 Greatest Laker Moments) or let the neophytes in on the rich history of the franchise.

3. The folly that is The Clippers.

4. Francis Dale Hearn’s most utilized colloquialisms are included, but you probably could have called that one with Braille.

5. Because FBandG is in it (Best Los Angeles Sports Blogs). Checking in at #4 on the list, and it refers to Kurt as “sound, articulate and interesting”, a spot on assessment to me. But there is a glaring error on this list, and I think I know why.

6. It will help you with your Lakers bar trivia… “Who are the top 10 Johnsons in L.A Sports History?” also known as the “How can we put Magic at the top of another list?” list.

7. You can relive how Jerry West bamboozled the NBA for an extended period of time as G. M. (Mitch has followed in his footsteps with that big Pau Gasol feather in his hat.) But you’ll realize that he did this mostly through his draft picks.

8. Kobe lists his favorite arenas, and many fans are always looking for some insight into who that guy really is, the list is surprisingly nostalgic and emotional. Mentioning the arena’s in Italy, PalaEUR where his dad played, and Philly, “The Palestra is Philly”, as well as being one the guys who played in both the Forum and Staples.

9. “Big Game James” gives us a nice insight into who he felt could have shared his moniker, most of them guys he competed against, but not surprisingly, the top 2 he played with.

10. It will cause/resolve/complicate some good sports related discourse.

I’ll end by quoting the authors…

“Depending on your level of sports knowledge, you will either find this book a great source of information, a great trip down memory lane, or a great reason to insist “these guys don’t know what they are talking about.”

-Gatinho aka Scott Thompson

Michigan State vs. UConnESPN was in its infancy, the internet was a sparkle in Al Gore’s eye, the NBA was an afterthought or not thought of at all, and March had yet to go Mad. When March Went Mad by Seth Davis chronicles an important developmental era of basketball, and more specifically how its marketing and hype machine would evolve as seen through the prism of the 1979 Indiana State vs. Michigan State NCAA Final.

Most of us are familiar with Seth Davis from CBS and SI, but here Davis tries his hand at historian and myth maker. Davis lacks the story telling skills necessary to carry this flawed drama (the game itself an anticlimactic one), and it lacks a consistent tension to make this a truly riveting read. But the book is exhaustively researched, and the fact that neither Bird nor Johnson participated in the process allows for many unique viewpoints from several angles of perception of the events that unfolded.

Having the main characters absent would seem like a detriment to the process, but it actually allows for us to meet participants that have long been forgotten. From the coaches, to the role players, to the team managers, these secondary and tertiary characters help Davis mythologize the nexus of the personal rivalry that would translate into a rebirth of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry of the ’80’s.

College basketball has always been about programs. Modern sports programmers would have to be talked off the ledge if you told them that Michigan State would be paired with Indiana Sate in the final game with nary a Duke or North Carolina around to represent the powers that be. But they would be clicking their heels together in delight at the thought of a mano-a-mano battle between the two best players in the country, one having already been selected in the previous year’s draft by the evil genius of Red Auerbach and another poised to be picked first by the glamor franchise on the West Coast.

It a was time when the college game was a regional phenomenon. But Bird and Magic would usher in the modern age of basketball. They would be the ones who would give a young David Stern no choice but to begin to market personalities and individual stars. They would be the ones whose coat tails ESPN would ride as college basketball would be become the phenomenon that we may be seeing wane in the era of the one and done.

The basketball deities birthed these twins as saviors to bring basketball into the national consciousness. The white kid from French Lick, who is Jimmy Chitwood but with a back story that never would have made into the romanticized world of Hoosiers, and the black kid from Michigan, whose smile and style would have kids across the country regardless of height pining to be point guards making no look passes, cast as foils. Then to place them under the spotlight of the National title game in Salt Lake City, Utah, many fans seeing them for the first time that night, is so storybook, central casting may have deemed it too corny to produce. The anti-climactic game aside, where Michigan State showed they were the better team with Bird laying the proverbial egg, failing to duplicate the performance that had seen the Sycamores go undefeated that season and that still eats at him to this day,

The structure of the novel follows the recruitment of the two players with Bird’s being the more riveting tale. We may connect Magic with Hollywood and Showtime, but it is Bird’s tale that is truly cinematic. He liked to fight. He liked to drink beer. He joked and harassed in a manner that displayed his lack of knowledge or concern with things political or correct. Davis’ depiction of Bird as the prototypical yet complex “hick” is the novel’s strength.

Johnson’s portrayal peels back the layers from the public persona that we dream is inseparable from his private one. In previous tomes writers have failed to give any depth to who Earvin really is. Davis does nice work in allowing the reader to make connections and decide if there really are any chinks to be found in the wildly-adored Teflon Johnson. From a Laker-centric viewpoint, When March Went Mad can be seen as a pre-history of Johnson. Long time fans will find themselves making connections between the collegiate Johnson and the professional one. I found myself especially ruminating on Johnson’s amazing rookie year with the club, showing that the leadership and skill he possessed at Michigan State would translate to the pros better than any imagined.

Davis also plainly yet elegantly fleshes out exactly what made these two players unique on the court. They were innovators and improvisers yet understood the premise of the game at a level that those around them were struggling to keep pace with. Davis takes us through the parallel journeys of two teams previously unrecognized on a national level and their ascent to prominence.

When March Went Mad chronicles an unrepeated “moment in time” that could be called the Coming of Age of basketball in its rise in the American consciousness. The days of “bracketology” and the injection of the information age still on the horizon, one can see where it has come from and can’t help but continue to speculate where it is going.

-Scott Thompson aka Gatinho

“You can’t pass up a great player at the big position for a great player at a another position…history bears this out.”

-Bill Fitch

On the eve of the 2007 draft the Portland Trailblazers are caught, once again.

Select the anchor in the middle, the man who has the back to the basket game that so many teams have as their number one need?

Or select the dynamic wing player. The man who may be that combination of creativity, athleticism, and desire to win that only comes along a handful of times per generation?

Well, the Trailblazers have been there before.

Filip Bondy’s Tip-Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever, chronicles the last time the fans in Rip City anxiously awaited and then desperately tried to forget what it was like to have a top 2 pick.

Bondy’s work goes in depth to show the machinations and thoughts that go along with the difficult process of evaluating talent and extrapolating what it will look like in the future.

The book is a treasure trove of anecdotal wealth. With multiple stories and story lines, one can gain a more dramatic view of the events of that draft and how they are still repercussing throughout the league and the fate of its individual franchises.

The novel describes the series of events and the main players of the ’84 draft who became difference makers and follows them from college, through the draft process, into their early NBA impact, and finally to where and if they fit into the pantheon of legends.

Hakeem Olajuwon, picked first by Houston, Charles Barkley, picked 5th by the 76ers, John Stockton, picked 16th by the Jazz and, of course, Michael Jordan, somehow drafted third.

In contrast we also follow the paths of the lesser lights, Sam Perkins, a solid pro, drafted 4th by Dallas and the outright blunder of the Sam Bowie pick, drafted second by Portland ahead of Jordan. The subtitle of this book could easily have been The Ballad of Sam Bowie.

The profile of Barkley is driven by his quotable quotes and shows how intelligent and unique of personality he is and was. It puts readers back in touch with the college “Porky Pig on a Trampoline” Barkley and the pro “I’m not a role model” Barkley. His verbal exasperation at being drafted by the Sixers allows for a laugh out loud moment, one of a bundle that the book provides.

The career arc of Sleepy Sam Perkins illuminates the unpredictability and human element of the outcome of this yearly crap shoot. Bondy shows that there are dissenting evaluations about the career and success of Perkins as a draft pick still unsettled in the present day.

Was he a great pick ‘chemistry-wise’? He had a long career littered with playoff trips. Or was he an under aggressive and undersized player who never found his niche until his teams and coaches recognized his weaknesses and emphasized his strengths?

Stockton turns out to be an unlikely star in the novel, just as he was in the NBA. Frank Layden was the man doing the drafting in Utah in 1984 and hearing Stockton’s story told through his sarcastic sense of humor makes it that much more enjoyable. Bondy gives us insight into the always stoic Stockton, fleshing out the man who would be passed on by 15 teams only to later become one of the game’s greatest.

But the title of the novel and its bold hypothesis seem ambitious for the books content. It floats through your head as you turn the pages and there never seems to be that moment, “Oh, that’s how the 1984 draft changed the NBA forever.” It left me thinking that we could say that about a lot of NBA drafts, but it is more appropriate for 1984 because of the anomaly and innovator that Michael Jordan would come to be. As the 1984 draft unfolds you can’t help thinking about Barkley, Stockton, and Olajuwon. While he was playing, Jordan single-handedly kept the rings off the hands of this draft class.

He changed the NBA forever through his impact on the marketing of NBA players, his career beginning the oft-criticized era of players being marketed ahead of teams, and through his ground breaking ability to make money as salesman off the court. It was previously thought that an African-American athlete couldn’t be a pitchman for big brands, and Jordan definitely put all that on its ear.

The question becomes what was changed inside the game? After Jordan didn’t every GM’s dream return to being about drafting the next great big man? Are GM’s any less covetous of the next back to the basket center that will forever change the way the opposition defends their team?

1984 changed the NBA “forever” in that it was the impetus for the draft lottery after teams suspiciously lost games down the stretch. But did the lottery really change that or are we still watching players sit with suspicious injuries while they giggle on the bench in street clothes?

If anything Tip-Off does a wonderful job of chronicling the continuing nuances and pitfalls of the draft. Bondy has painstakingly researched and interviewed the players in this drama to create a book that is almost encyclopedic in knowledge. His straight-forward newspaper style will not put him among the more romantic sports novelists, but this book deserves its place.

If Tip-Off were to be paralleled with an ’84 draftee, it would be the other pick Portland made in the draft, the pick that a Portland fan may point to when being ridden about the Sam Bowie debacle, Jerome Kersey. Kersey, drafted 46th, would play 11 years with the Blazers, score 12,000 points and get 6,000 rebounds over his career. He was a solid workman-like pro that would be an important cog in the contending Blazers of the early 90’s.

This might be a difficult read for Portland fans who suffered through the ‘84 draft and the subsequent thrashings by the man they could have drafted, but to say that they are once again between a rock and a hard place is laughable. What team or fan wouldn’t want their Oden or Durant dilemma?

For this draft and any other, the cliche of “time will tell” rules.

“Always pick the best athlete…to choose by position or need [is] utter folly.”

-Scott Thompson aka Gatinho