EbeneMagazine – CA – Three-Ring Circus: A Compulsively Readable Look at the Shaq-Kobe Lakers


The Los Angeles Lakers of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were one of the most successful and tumultuous teams in NBA history In his new book, Jeff Pearlman tells their story

Perhaps no duo in NBA history is as infamous as that of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant who played eight seasons together from 1996 to 2004, winning three championships in the process. While other couples may have been together longer or enjoyed more collective success, Shaq and Kobe’s outsized personalities, along with their individual heritage and the drama between them combined to make their time as as teammates one of the most talked about eras in the league story Now bestselling author Jeff Pearlman has written what promises to be the definitive book about their time together in his very good compulsive reading three-ring circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil and the Roaring Twenties of the Dynasty. Lakers

The Three Ring Circus functions somewhat like a sequel to Pearlman’s previous book, Showtime, which dealt with the 1980s Lakers led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar The new book picks up a few years after Showtime, starting with Magic Johnson’s brief comeback in 1996, portraying a team in disarray before moving on to profiling Shaq and Kobe and showing the machinations Jerry West undertook to ensure he could get them both

With Shaq, Kobe and coach Phil Jackson at the center of the narrative, the book is more of a triple biography of them and their relationships than a story of the Lakers as a franchise Even if the story goes astray , these three men are the polar stars of the book, each receiving a detailed account of how they got to Los Angeles. It is their interactions with each other and their evolving dynamics that provide the Tri-Ring Circus with its greatest forward movement, even more than the success on the pitch they have achieved together since these three men are public figures. For decades, some stories may seem boring to longtime NBA fans, but Pearlman more than makes up for that with a number of others that have never been told before. Few are revealing, but almost all are entertaining Even if you think you know O’Neal, Bryant and Jackson very well, your opinion of them will likely change at least a little

Bryant’s portrayal may seem too negative to some staunch fans, even though it feels like a needed fix to the mythology of him that began years before his tragic and untimely death. Pearlman portrayed Kobe as a player of supernatural talent, but also as a selfish and petulant person whose own desire for individual greatness outweighed his ability to be a decent teammate, reducing the chances that this brief dynasty would last longer. He also doesn’t hesitate to look into Bryant’s alleged rape of a hotel worker in Colorado in the summer of 2003. In the aftermath of his death, many fans found it unfortunate that writers or fans brought up this aspect of his life, as if it was a slanderous attempt to vilify an otherwise great life, denying the growth he could have done as a person , husband and father in his later years And while from the outside it is true that such growth seems to have occurred, it does not erase the pain he caused this woman and the way a such refusal to seriously address this period of his life trivializes other accusations of sexual assault, both by prominent figures as well as by those who are not celebrities This book will not oblige readers who are fans not critical of Bryant to consider this aspect of his life and legacy, but he’ll at least force them to acknowledge it, which is important

While the personalities of the main characters are fleshed out, the book really shines when it focuses on lesser-known players such as Mike Penberthy, an undrafted guard who played 56 games for the Lakers in two seasons, and Mark Madsen, a bench player known more for his terrible dance moves than for his success on the pitch In addition, the stories of these players allow a more complete view of the team as a whole and their most famous teammates By allowing readers to see what it was like to be their teammates – on their good or bad sides – and what it was like to be a Jackson-coached non-star, a more complete view of these individuals emerges that is different from the same old PR stories that have been revamped for years

The book is divided into a number of chapters which while advancing the narrative which tends to operate in a straightforward fashion focuses on a particular match, player or theme, which sets each section apart. For example, the chapter on the 1999 season uses the time Dennis Rodman spent with the team as a coaching device. It’s a great way to tell a bigger story while not losing sight of more low-key micro-narratives that could easily have been overlooked by a less disciplined journalist

While Pearlman’s reporting is flawless, the writing sometimes doesn’t quite live up to the standard her research has set. It’s never wrong, but sometimes it gets a little too casual for my taste Often aimed at humor that may or may not resonate and in times when it doesn’t, it becomes a distraction that takes that reader out of the story Additionally, Pearlman has always loved revealing less tasty details about his subjects, which is meant to humanize them and the stories themselves are quite often fun. However, there are times here when it feels unnecessarily petty No objective observer can deny that Dennis Rodman and JR Rider have had chaotic, less than formidable tenures with the Lakers, but Pearlman’s tone when writing to them. subject may appear to kick someone who is already down

This tone may make sections of the book read like an excerpt from a gossip magazine It keeps the narrative moving, but it’s particularly ill-suited to the subject of Kobe’s alleged rape Bryant Pearlman does a terrific job of securing the information and give as complete a detail as possible of what happened that night in Colorado – there are several pages of transcripts of interviews between the alleged victim and the detectives as well as between these same detectives and Bryant , none of what I have ever seen before However, this style and the tendency to bask in some salacious details can sometimes detract from the seriousness of the claims

None of these minor complaints should stop an NBA fan from picking up this Three-Ring Circus book is compulsively readable with new disclosures every few pages Although the main lines of the story are familiar to most, no other book has covered this team of this depth Even diehard Lakers fans will be greeted with a number of stories and ideas that will be new to them. Really, the only people I can’t imagine enjoying this book to the fullest are fans of the teams the Lakers have beaten. on their way to their three titles, but if Portland and Sacramento fans can look past that, even they will find a lot to appreciate in the story of the loss of this brief dynasty

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Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers, Dwight Howard, J R Smith

EbeneMagazine – CA – Three-Ring Circus: A compulsively readable look at the Shaq-Kobe Lakers

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