February 9, 2010
For whatever reason, whether for personal growth or a form of continuing education, Los Angeles Laker coach Phil Jackson has deemed it prudent to present the individual members of his team specifically selected books prior to extended road trips like the eight-game, 13-day jaunt they recently completed.
As far as the selection process itself, one would have to think that Phil, in his Zen-like infinite wisdom, recognizes intellectual or spiritual voids in his young charges that he feels might be resolved by the reading of the material in question.
Or maybe he just believes that anything he can do to occupy their time during such an extensive absence from the home front might serve to cut down on attendance at various pole-dancing venues.
Phil has been into this kind of activity since his days coaching the Chicago Bulls and it’s rather obvious what a life-changing effect it had upon Dennis Rodman. I have no idea what his reading list looked like, but by the time Phil got done with him, he’d become the top rebounding cross-dresser in the history of the NBA.
Prior to embarking on their somewhat-unsuccessful road trip, Jackson passed out some interesting titles. To Ron Artest, the new kid on the block, he presented his own book "Sacred Hoops." No doubt Phil felt that an infusion of Zen Buddhism and Lakota Sioux shamanism might just calm the lad down a bit.
The young, long, and tall Andrew Bynum received "Six Easy Pieces," a collection of short stories featuring Easy Rawlins, author Walter Mosley’s wonderful amateur gumshoe from south-central L.A. Another Mosley work, "The Right Mistake," with hardened ex-con Socrates Fortlow getting most of the close-ups, ended up in Lamar Odom’s carry-on.
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To Derek Fisher, Phil handed Eldridge Cleaver’s eloquent classic rant from prison back in the ’60s, "Soul on Ice." If he’d have just asked, I would have been glad to lend him my dog-eared first-edition paperback.
Adam Morrison received "Che: A Graphic Biography," which follows Guevara’s evolving belief system, legacy, and mythological timelines, which Phil felt, no doubt, would mix well with his Gonzaga University Jesuit undergraduate education.
"Reservation Blues," Sherman Alexie’s first novel — about an all-Indian Catholic rock band called Coyote Springs — went to Sasha Vujacic, the Lakers’ Slovenian "shooting guard." Diversity’s big with Phil.
I was somewhat surprised that his selection for Luke Walton was "The Monkey Wrench Gang" by Edward Abbey. One would have thought that the son of radical basketball icon Bill Walton would have consumed this hilarious tale of four eco-sabateurs while in preschool.
Kobe Bryant got "Montana 1948" by Larry Watson. Shannon Brown took along "Dreams From My Father" by Barack Obama. Jordan Farmar: "Makes Me Wanna Holler" by Nathan McCall. Pau Gasol: "2666" by Roberto Bolano. Josh Powell: The Souls of Black Folk" by W.E.B. Du Bois. And DJ Mbenga received "Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member" by Sanyika Shakur and Monster Kody Scott.
All of this got me thinking about what Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan might pass out to his team before they embark on their upcoming four-game six-day road trip which gets underway next Tuesday, February 16 in Houston and, after stops in New Orleans and Golden State, winds up at the Rose Garden in Portland on Sunday February 21.
The Jazz, who’ve been playing the best hoops in the Western Conference the past couple of weeks, probably aren’t as individually flawed as my Lakers, but that doesn’t mean their road library couldn’t use a bit of upgrading. And I imagine Jerry is just the guy to perform such a function.
Sloan, whose own particular brand of Zen centers more on restoring vintage tractors, checking out flea markets, yard sales, and swap meets, moving stuff around, and getting good and dirty, would rather muck out a stall than sit in a drum circle.
I see him dipping into his bookshelves and passing out the following: to Carlos Boozer a copy of "The 2007-2012 World Outlook for Parts for Agricultural Stalk Shredders and Cutters or Rotary Mowers (PTO)." Deron Williams is in line for "Diesel Engine and Fuel System Repair (5th Edition).
For Andrei Kirilenko, "The Big Book of John Deere Tractors: The Complete Model-by-Model Encyclopedia." In a similar vein, Mehmet Okur will get the bestselling "Love, Sex and Tractors" by Roger Welsch.
With the Lakers in town to take on the Jazz tonight, no doubt Phil and Jerry will set aside some time to compare literary notes — or wrenches, whichever comes up first.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.