There hasn’t quite been a sports book quite as controversial and widely discussed as Phil Jackson’s ‘The Last Season: A Team in Search of its Soul.’
Written by the coach of nine NBA championship teams, the book provides an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look of the story into the 2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers team. Written in a journal format with the coach’s thoughts on everything that happened before, during, and after the season, Jackson doesn’t hold back as he discusses his concerns and opinions on an eventful and ultimately disappointing season.
The book has been criticized by the media as being too revealing of what really goes on in the NBA. Jackson has also been accused of just writing the book for attention and money.
However, the book itself makes for a very interesting read. It explains a lot about what really went on during the season that was never revealed previously. It caters more to basketball fans, as nonfans might not understand the basketball jargon. Throughout the book, one can see that Jackson worked hard at his job, was knowledgeable about the game and that he truly wanted to win. Jackson also doesn’t hold back as he makes less-than-flattering remarks about some referees, players and other people connected with the NBA.
The downside of the book is that some of the information may not be entirely accurate. Certain subjects that Jackson discusses were generally considered to be rumors, but Jackson makes them seem like facts. Some of the information might have been construed to make Jackson look good in the public eye. Bits of Jackson’s sarcasm and arrogance also come out in the book.
The book starts out with the retooling of the Lakers, whose string of three straight championships was snapped by the San Antonio Spurs.
The team signed Karl Malone and Gary Payton, adding them to the lineup along with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. It was a team that was destined to win the championship, with four future hall-of-famers.
Then, Jackson found out that Bryant had been charged with sexual assault, which worried himabout the effect it would have on the season ahead. He talks about the opening of training camp and the potential of the team to do great things, but he wasn’t sure if it was all going to work out.
Jackson even hired a therapist to deal with the difficulties of the season. He expresses his anger when Bryant and O’Neal started feuding publicly right before opening night.
At first, the team lived up to the expectations set forth by its reputation, but soon everything fell apart. Karl Malone got injured and was forced to sit out a better part of the season. One by one, many of the other players on the team got injured. Egos got in the way as players fought with each other and with the coaches for respect and shot attempts.
Even with all its problems, the team managed to win the Pacific Division and the number two seed in the playoffs. The team headed into the playoffs, defeating the Houston Rockets, the San Antonio Spurs and the Minnesota Timberwolves, and made the finals. In the end, the injuries and egos caught up to the team as nothing went right and they lost to the Detroit Pistons.
Jackson feels that the team never really got it together. The team was dismantled and Jackson retired. There is no happy ending as everyone went their separate ways. Jackson felt that he let the city of Los Angeles and the Lakers owner, Jerry Buss, down.
Jackson ends the book with words that described the entire season: ‘We just lost our way at the wrong time.’
Overall, the book was a mix of honesty, humor and sadness. I definitely recommend the book to sports fans in general. It gives you a clearer picture on the difficulties of playing a professional sport and being in the public eye.