(TW: this book mentions Kobe Bryant’s rape case and so does this review. The book goes into graphic detail; the review does not.)
I always enjoy Jeff Pearlman’s sports books and this one was no exception. Just as he did for the Showtime Lakers, so he does for the Shaq-Kobe Lakers.
Personally speaking, I hated those teams. I thought they were arrogant and selfish. I rooted hard against them in the Finals every year. But that was also in the time when I didn’t care much for the NBA. Nowadays, it’s maybe my favorite sports league.
Pearlman gets into the heart of why: the cockiness of Kobe and the laziness of Shaq and the general obnoxiousness of Phil Jackson. They were great, at times dominant but their dominance always felt boring. Kobe was desperate to be MJ, Shaq needed to be loved. As Bill Simmons once accurately put it: they were two bullies who teamed up to split the lunch money.
What makes Pearlman’s books so good is his willingness to talk to lesser players and figures. Those folks always have stories to tell and a better perspective than the stars. Every time I read his tales about these teams, I’ve felt like I’ve got a full picture of them. He’s very good at drawing from multiple sources to help understand what makes the teams tick.
Also, without knowing or remembering the full details of Kobe Bryant’s rape case, Pearlman addresses it, sparing no detail. But he doesn’t do it gratuitously; rather, it gives the full picture of the man and how the organization protected him. It’s pretty damning of Bryant and it’s likely that his untimely death prevented public sentiment from retroactively turning against him.
The only downside to this book is Pearlman’s constant use of bad metaphors/similes. It’s grating and beneath such a capable writer. Otherwise, this is another winner of his. I enjoy his books so much. It seems like he’s on an every-other-year pace and I can’t wait to read the next one.