Phil Jackson, basketball coach and bibliophile, recently resumed
a practice he began when he was running the Bulls by assigning
books to the players on his new team, the Lakers. A volume of
philosophy by Friedrich Nietzsche ("Man is a rope between the
animal and the Superman") was given to center Shaquille O'Neal
(who has a Superman tattoo on his left biceps). A redneck
travelogue (Confederates in the Attic) was presented to West
Virginia-reared general manager Jerry West. And the fictional
story of a black child of Uncle Toms raised in white Santa
Monica (The White Boy Shuffle) was earmarked for guard Kobe
Bryant (who is the son of a former NBA player and spent part of
his childhood in Italy). "Given the provocative content [of
White Boy]," The New York Times reported, "[Bryant] thought
Jackson assumed a bit too much about his upbringing so early in
Alas, it was not the first time Big Chief Triangle tragically
misread an athlete. Or a book title. Or both, as revealed in
Jackson's prodigious, and shockingly presumptuous, Amazon.com
gift-giving profile. Illegally hacked into by a mysterious
firstname.lastname@example.org document, like
Jackson himself, speaks volumes.
"For Shaquille O'Neal, who grew up black and Irish," Jackson once
had inscribed in a copy he ordered of 'Tis, "a memoir about the
miserable Irish childhood of Wayman Tisdale." (Wrong on both
Likewise, Hamlet is not (as Jackson erroneously had written on a
gift card) "a contraction of 'ham omelet'"--which surely
disappointed its recipient, Suns center Oliver Miller.
Had he looked more closely at the title page, Jackson would have
known that David Mamet never published a play called Glengarry
Glen Rice, and that the tale of ruthless realtors that he
purchased (Glengarry Glen Ross) would be far less appealing to
his self-involved small forward.
Speaking of which: When Scottie Pippen (now with the Trail
Blazers) bristled under Jackson in Chicago, the coach left in his
locker a copy of Beowulf. "It's about two troubled stars named
Scott," Jackson claimed. "Charles in Charge star Scott Baio, and
Party of Five star Scott Wolf." (It isn't.)
Contrary to reports, Jackson appears to know little of literature
or motivational psychology. Little Women is not--despite what
Jackson may have told 5'3" Raptors guard Tyrone Bogues--the
novelization of an all-midget, soft-core Spectravision feature
Muggsy once found diverting.
Nor is Naked Lunch a lifestyle manual. (In hindsight, Jackson
regrets having implied that it was when he FedExed it to former
baseball manager Dick Williams, c/o the Veranda, Room 207,
Radisson Hotel, Fort Myers, Fla.)
Look, we're all in favor of encouraging people to read. But it
was insensitive at best for Jackson--who remains a close friend of
Michael Jordan's--to lend ex-Washington coach Gar Heard his
dog-eared copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ("about a
messianic new Wizard who makes people disappear").
At least he knew the plot. More often, in his compulsion to
recommend a good read, Jackson appears to be guessing. Surely,
had the coach known it was about a clubfooted orphan, he would
never have steered Dennis Rodman to Of Human Bondage.
Jeff Van Gundy, Knicks coach and Jackson antagonist, was asked if
he'd ever given a book to a player. "I may have but I haven't
publicized it," Van Gundy replied. "To get to this level, every
coach is intelligent. Some choose not to let you know about it."
As an olive branch, Jackson plans to give Van Grumpy
Knickerbocker's History of New York, his favorite book about
basketball. It was written by Washington Irving, 82 years before
the game was invented.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO