Excerpt from New Edition of Mark Heisler's Madmen's BallThe first edition of Mark Heisler's book Madmen's Ball: The Inside Story of the Lakers' Dysfunctional Dynasties was published in October 2004, not long after the most recent Lakers' dynasty imploded in the wake of a 4-1 loss in the NBA Finals followed by the trading of Shaquille O'Neal to Miami and the resignation of Phil Jackson. Of course, O'Neal went on to win a championship with the Heat before presiding over perhaps the quickest and most complete collapse by a champion in NBA history: within two years O'Neal's Heat were the worst team in the NBA and he had found an escape hatch to Phoenix. Meanwhile, Jackson sat out one year before returning to the Lakers and Bryant won two scoring titles as the undermanned Lakers struggled to make the playoffs. Last year, of course, everything fell into place after the Pau Gasol trade as Bryant won his first MVP and led the Lakers back to the NBA Finals.
A revised and updated version of Madmen's Ball has just been published but instead of focusing on the new material the L.A. Times chose to run an excerpt dealing with the final chapter of the O'Neal-Bryant feud. It would seem to make more sense for Heisler's own newspaper to highlight his insights about the Lakers' rebirth last season but there is a certain value to looking back on the O'Neal-Bryant feud now that a few years have passed. Bryant's reputation was undoubtedly at its nadir when Heisler's book was first published but since that time a lot of people have come to understand that they misjudged Bryant--or, if they don't possess the introspective character necessary to draw such a conclusion then they have convinced themselves that they have remained the same but Bryant has transformed into a completely different person than the "selfish" one that he allegedly was just four short years ago (keep in mind that Bryant had already been the leading playmaker on three championship squads while making the All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams, honors that are not typically bestowed on "selfish" players).
The general public often bought into the version of events that the gregarious O'Neal communicated to his numerous friends in the media, though O'Neal's credibility has taken a hit now that the Heat imploded around him while Bryant proved that he certainly can be the leader of a championship caliber squad. Heisler reports that for Bryant the final straw came in the 2003 training camp when O'Neal declared of Bryant, "He doesn't need advice on how to play his position, but he needs advice on how to play team ball. As we start this new season, [things have] to be done right. If you don't like it, then you can opt out next year. If it's going to be my team, I'll voice my opinion. If he don't like it, he can opt out...I ain't going nowhere." Heisler quotes Bryant's point by point refutation of O'Neal's criticisms and O'Neal's conduct:
"There's more to life than whose team this is, but this is his team so it's time for him to act like it. That means no more coming into camp fat and out of shape when your team is relying on your leadership on and off the court. It also means no more blaming others for our team's failure or blaming staff members for not overdramatizing your injuries so that you avoid blame for your lack of conditioning. Also, 'my team' doesn't mean only when we win. It means carrying the burden of defeat just as gracefully as you carry a championship trophy.
"Leaders don't beg for contract extensions and negotiate some $30-million-plus deal in the media when we have two future Hall of Famers playing here basically for free. A leader would not demand the ball when you have three of us besides you, not to mention the teammates that he's gone to war with the past three years...By the way, you also don't threaten not to play defense and not to rebound if you don't get the ball every time down the floor."
On playing in pain: "I don't need Shaq's advice on how to play hurt. I've played with IVs before...with a broken hand, a sprained ankle, a fractured tooth, a severed lip, and a knee the size of a softball. I didn't miss 15 games because of a toe injury that everybody knows wasn't that serious."
On their relationship: "He is not my quote-unquote big brother. A big brother would have called me up over the summer."
posted by David Friedman @ 8:12 AM