cover image Three-Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Days of the Lakers Dynasty

Three-Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Days of the Lakers Dynasty

Jeff Pearlman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-1-328-53000-4

Sportswriter Pearlman (Football for a Buck) excites with this enjoyable, exhaustively reported, and unsparing portrait of the early 2000s Los Angeles Lakers. Pearlman chronicles the team’s turbulent rise, highlighted by coach Del Harris (“no pizzazz, no imagination, and just too much jabbering”), and portrays the underachievers (out-of-shape Glen Rice) and fringe players (hardened rookie Mike Penberthy, who refused to be bullied by Kobe Bryant) behind the team’s championship run. Pearlman explains that though the team won three straight championships (2000–2002), its continuing success was squashed by the inability of its two young, generation-defining superstars—endearing though undisciplined Shaquille O’Neal and enfant terrible Bryant—to coexist. The star throughout the narrative is Bryant, a teenage basketball prodigy with zero social skills and an unquenchable thirst for personal glory whom head coach Phil Jackson, who replaced Harris, deemed a “juvenile narcissist” and who Pearlman suggests obliterated Jackson’s team concept. Pearlman’s ability to uncover juicy anecdotes—O’Neal rapping about a rape accusation against Bryant on the team plane; Bryant prodded by teammate Karl Malone to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving—illuminates how egos and immaturity were the Lakers’ fatal opponents. This will be a three-pointer for hoops fans. (Sept.)