Roland Lazenby's "Show" Impressive Indeed

Roland Lazenby has been on TrueHoop before, talking about everything from William Wesley to Sid Hartman.

He also, bless him, had his publisher send me a review copy of his new book The Show.

So I did something I almost never have time to do: I actually read the thing. All 468 pages.

The truth is, I wish it had been longer, in some ways. It's rich with gossip and personality.

The gist of the first section is that a young newspaper writer, Sid Hartman, essentially built and ran the team. The two early stars, Jim Pollard and George Mikan, were just like Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal: a mega-talented wing player and the best center of his day, locked in a career-long battle for supremacy, accolades, and respect.

Norm Nixon and Magic Johnson also had their spats.

But Lazenby could, and possibly should, have written an entire book about the modern soap opera of Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson, Jerry West, and Jerry Buss. Some highlights:

  • In the 1996-97 season, Lazenby writes "the Dallas Mavericks had sought to trade point guard Jason Kidd for Van Exel, but it was [then Laker Coach Del] Harris who didn't want to make the trade..." Lazenby rightly doesn't dwell on this would-have-been, but for the record that would have given L.A. a 1996-97 lineup of Jason Kidd, Eddie Jones, Kobe Bryant, Robert Horry, Shaquille O'Neal, and youngish Elden Campbell, with Rick Fox on the way the following season. Whew, baby, that would have changed history.

  • Lazenby didn't do the what-if to Del Harris that I just did, but Del Harris does some what-iffing himself, blaming Buss for panicking in shipping out Campbell, Jones, and Harris himself. "Just think how good their team would have been if they had Eddie Jones in there with Kobe and Shaq and Fisher and Fox. And Elden Campbell, too." You're right, Del, they'd be great, but they'd be even better with Jason Kidd!

  • Derek Fisher--an undeniably good guy as portrayed in this book, on the early years with Kobe Bryant:

    "It was clear the organization was satisfied with how Kobe played as was the coaching staff. It was clear they were not gonna hold him back or slow him down from the player that he wanted to be. Shaq also benefited from the star system. That's the way the NBA works. But it can be demoralizing to a team, demoralizing to the players making the sacrifice."

  • Kurt Rambis feels he had a shot to heal the Shaq/Kobe feud when he was coach, but O'Neal was unwilling to lead the reconciliation:

    Rambis reasoned that O'Neal should change his attitude because he was the team leader, the one player capable of pulling the team together. You can heal this rift; you can reach out to Kobe, Rambis told his center. Bryant was young and hardworking and just learning the game, the coach pointed out, and the center should make a move to reconcile with him. The coach later recalled that O'Neal's only answer was a blank, cold stare. Nothing more. That, Rambis would come to understand in retrospect, would be the moment, his one chance to heal the relationship, to bring an end to the team's deep division.

  • News to me: Lazenby reports that, essentially, Phil Jackson broke up the Bulls.

    Jordan would later explain that he believed Jackson would remain with the team if he managed to convince Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf that the team should not be broken up. Reinsdorf ultimately agreed with Jordan, but then Jackson walked away anyway, saying he needed a sabbatical.

  • Phil Jackson comes off as an incredible coach (as you thumb through this book in the book store aisle read the section from pages 366-392 for an appreciation of his subtle mastery of his craft, and then also read page 395 for a look at how Jackson may have subtly engineered Jerry West's departure from the Lakers), and a not-so great person in this book. Here's a little exchange from shortly before he became the Lakers coach the first time, which gives a sense of how Jackson was viewed by some of his peers.

    ...[Jerry] West was sitting in the nearly empty Great Western Forum when this book's author mentioned Jackson.

    "Fuck Phil Jackson," West said.

    Thinking that he had been misunderstood, this writer again mentioned Jackson. "Fuck Phil Jackson," West repeated, emphasizing the words and his disdain.

  • Phil Jackson also comes off like a bad husband, essentially (according to Lazenby's sources) taking the Laker job at the expense of his marriage.

    ...wife June stayed behind in New York. The couple had worked to regain their relationship following the revelation that Jackson had committed infidelities in Chicago. If he had elected to end his pro basketball career, they might have succeeded in repairing the damage, several friends observed... In the spring, the Chicago Sun-Times would receive a top from someone affiliated with the Bulls that Jackson was romantically involved with Jerry Buss's daughter Jeanie.

  • Great anecdote about Chick Hearn and his once-sidekick, Al Michaels (who only lasted ten games--obviously, not for a lack of talent). Los Angeles Herald Examiner reporter Merv Harris is reported saying:

    "Chick would open the broadcasts by saying, 'This is Chick Hearn with Al Michaels.' Then you wouldn't hear from Michaels until halftime, when Chick would say, 'And now here's the first half scoring with Al Michaels.' Then Chick would do the second half and at the end say, "Here's the game scoring with Al Michaels.' After about three games, Hearn went to Cooke and said Michaels was taking too long reading the scores."

  • Longtime Jackson assistant Tex Winter is the greatest of Lazenby's many sources, and he spouts refreshingly honest ideas on just about everyone. For instance, here Winter:

    "Phil was dealing with two mighty big egos. But in my mind I blamed Shaq more than Kobe. Kobe tried to sacrifice. Kobe tried to please Shaq, because Kobe realized the team's effectiveness began with Shaq. But if you look at Shaq's quotes in the paper, it was always me, me, me. Give me the ball. It's my team, my city. Shaq is a wonderful person in a lot of ways. He's very compassionate, very generous. He has a great sense of humor. But he's moody; he's unpredictable. And he's very self-centered."

  • A little story from while O'Neal was still a Laker, and the two were in the All-Star game together:

    O'Neal was clearly mimicking Bryant's crossover dribble during All-Star warmups, then tossing the ball up into the stands to emphasize the guard's turnovers...

    (I was there in Oaklannd when this reportedly happened, and, always the crack reporter, had no idea until I read it here.) At that same All-Star game, Jackson reportedly encouraged Bryant to sit out the dunk contest, something for which I know the defending champion Bryant took a lot of heat. It was big of Bryant not to pass the buck.

  • There's a great anecdote about how Bryant asked Gary Payton, before they were teammates, how to defend the pick and roll. Payton talked to him about it, and Bryant's defense completely changed for the better from that moment on. Stat mavens, this is said to have occured at the All-Star game in February 2000. If anyone can demonstrate a measurable shift in Kobe's defnse around then (in addition to the fact he started getting on the all-defensive team at that time), that would be a cool thing to add to any discussion of Gary Payton.