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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Excerpt from New Edition of Mark Heisler's Madmen's Ball

The 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."

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:12 AM



At Sunday, November 09, 2008 9:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

everybody know kobe got rid of shaq by politcing him out he wouldnt sign with the lakers unless shaq was gone and if they kept shaq he would of went to the clippers or bulls come on theres nuthing else to tak about you kobe fans and people in te tank for him can say whatever the truth is in your face. now the laker have done them self well now wit gasol bynum and kobe but kobe has to win 2 rings without shaq to be better tan saq if they both have 4 rings i still think shaq had a better career cause he was the reason for the first 3.

At Sunday, November 09, 2008 10:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


How exactly does "everybody know" what you are alleging to be true? More specifically, how do you know? Did you cover the team during that time frame? Are you personally acquainted with any of the principal parties involved? No, you have simply chosen to believe the side of the story portrayed by members of the media who like Shaq. Meanwhile, everyone who was actually involved--including Shaq himself--has stated very clearly that Kobe did not force the Lakers' hand regarding Shaq. In fact, Shaq forced the Lakers' hand by insisting that he wanted a max deal for max years and that started up in training camp when he dunked the ball and loudly shouted out to owner Jerry Buss that he wanted his money. Getting in a public confrontation with the owner of the team is not usually considered a good business practice.

The only people who are "in the tank" for anybody are those who buy the story that everything is Kobe's fault and that Shaq was blameless. Could Kobe have handled certain situations better than he did? Certainly and he has admitted as much--but remember that he joined the team as a teenager straight out of high school. Shaq was supposed to be the veteran leader and it was his responsibility to take the high road for the betterment of the team, something that he could never bring himself to do because he was jealous of Kobe, as Tex Winter and other insiders have repeatedly mentioned over the years. Moreover, right from the start Kobe had a much better work ethic than Shaq and that was a big source of their conflicts and incompatibility. If Shaq had had a better work ethic then it is likely that he and Kobe would still be teammates and that together they could have won several more titles than they did.

At Monday, November 10, 2008 3:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

you say kobe blameless because youre a fan shaq said he knew buss didnt want to pay him but if kobe wanted to keep it together he could of told busss too. he wanted mike kyzeski from duke and they drop 50 million at his door kobe could of ssaid like jordan did with pippen if shaq isnt here im not here he would never say that because he wanted to be the man on the team and as he told phil jackson he didnt want to be the sidekick anymore.

he wouldnt sign with lakers if shaq was still there ass a source said a couple years ago that is fact most people believe it because it is the truth man.

kobe team 5-0 and championssship contenders but that doesnt change the fact of what i said ass true.

At Monday, November 10, 2008 4:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I didn't say that Kobe was "blameless." I said that it is wrong to assert that Shaq is "blameless" but you are so biased toward Shaq/against Kobe that you didn't pay enough attention to what I actually wrote.

Did I miss something? When did Coach K become the coach of the Lakers? Did MJ keep the Bulls together after the second threepeat? You must have be living in a different reality than I am, because in my universe Rudy T replaced Jackson in L.A. and the Bulls' management announced their plans to break up the team before the Bulls won their sixth title in eight years. I've heard of breaking up a team because it did not win a title but that was the only time I've ever seen an owner say that he was going to break up a team even if it won.

"A source" said? That's the best you can do? How about THE source, Jerry Buss--the owner of the team. He has repeatedly said that there was no way that he was going to sign Shaq for max years and max dollars.

At Monday, November 10, 2008 8:34:00 AM, Blogger Joel said...


Why is it Kobe's responsibility to 'keep the team together'? Do you think he should have called up Shaq (who was always quick to point out that it was HIS team) and asked him to lower his ridiculous contract demands?

Everybody knows Shaq and Kobe did not want to play together any more, but if you think Jerry Buss just turned over control of his franchise to a 25-year-old Kobe I don't know what to tell you. He made the decision he thought was best for the franchise, as Shaq himself has later acknowledged. The fact that he was forced to choose between the two players is the fault of both Shaq ("Pay me!") and Kobe, but of course the "Kobe ran Shaq out of LA" story sells better so that's all people focus on.

At Monday, November 10, 2008 8:56:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

The saga continues. For Heisler to write a book about this is a joke. Who cares? Its not even intriguing anymore. Of course it makes sense to keep the younger star player than an aging center. And Reggie, Kobe never has to be better than Shaq because they play different positions. Compare Oneal with Akeem or Kareem not Bryant.

At Monday, November 10, 2008 3:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Heisler wrote the book in 2004, just after the Lakers made the Finals and then traded Shaq. The new edition of the book contains material that Heisler just added about last year's team. I don't know why the L.A. Times chose to excerpt the chapter about Kobe-Shaq instead of the new material but I do think that it is worth revisiting how incorrect the media's take was on this situation at the time.

At Tuesday, November 11, 2008 11:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

when did i say he became the coach of the lakers he been at duke 30 years i know maybe you missed this but in the summer of 04 they offer him 50 mil for the job he turned it down kobe is good friends with him and told lakers he wanted him to be coach and thats why they offered to him.

mj would never politic or breakup the bulls in the middle of they run like kobe did with lakers i know by 98 the bulls had said they werent bringing phil back mj retired pip left to portland the run might of had one more year thats it shaq and kobe had 4 or 5 still. jerry buss is going to say yeah kobe ran shaq out and wouldnt sign with lakers unless shaq was gone? of course not kobe play for them still so he going to play it off and put it on him rather than the truth which kobe put him in a pickem spot and he picked kobe.

madnice kobe is playing for best player post jordan era which is shaq right now to be above shaq he has to win more ring than shaq if he doesnt then he not better shaq is fourth all time in centers in my opion.

joel kobe politiced him he had the franchise in his hands shaq and lakers were within 2 or 3 million of that 30 mil kobe had made it clear he not signing with them if they kept him there i bet if kobe said if shaq not here im not signing with you they would of payed shaq then like they was going to pay coach k when he said he wanted to play for coach k there kobe could of kept shaq there he didnt want to play with him anymore he didnt like second fiddle he wanted to prove he could lead a team to a championship and he didnt want the pippen label thats the truth if lakers win championship it was a good move for both shaq won kobe won if lakers win 2 rings they win the battle.

At Wednesday, November 12, 2008 6:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My point about Coach K is that if Kobe were running the Lakers like you say he is then Coach K would have become the coach of the team. Obviously, that never happened.

You have absolutely no proof that Kobe "broke up" the Lakers. All of the evidence suggests the contrary, including the public statements of Buss, Kobe, Jackson and Shaq himself. How can you suggest that you know more about what happened then the people who were actually involved?

As I've said before, if you are basing it on rings then Duncan and Shaq are in a dead heat in the race for best player of the post-Jordan era.

Buss said all along that he would not pay Shaq max dollars for max years because of Shaq's questionable work habits. Kobe had nothing to do with any of that. Kobe had the option of walking away and signing with another team without the Lakers receiving any compensation, so they could hardly base their decisions on what he wanted.

At Friday, November 14, 2008 11:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

lol coach k could of he didnt want to leave duke why he didnt leave if he wanted too he would of been coach of lakers kobe had enough strings to have them offer him he could of told them he wanted shaq there still and they would of kept shaq.

i have all the proof and everyone else did buss would never come out publicly and say it so he took the bullet for kobe. nor would jackson now because he coaching kobe now so he will play it off in his book he told the truth and said kobe told him he didnt want to be sidekick anymore and he wouldnt work it out with shaq, which is why he wouldnt sign with the lakers till shaq was gone or if they wouldnt move shaq he was going to chicago or clippers thats the facts you think kobe does nuthing wrong and too much of a fan to see the truth.

shaq is number 1 in post jordan era anybody and everyone knows that he beat tim duncan 3out of 5 times they played plus was more dominant than duncan was so no question best player kobe got to get two rings to be past the diesel.

buss would of signed shaq if kobe had asked to keep it together kobe whole thing was based on what the lakers were going to do with shaq they got rid of phil jackson to make shaq ask for a trade they couldnt just get rid of shaq and shaq would of never asked for trade if jackson was still there which would of made kobe look bad to leave lakers for another team when the team just went to the finals he had to get rid of both to leave and really wanted shaq to leave, my whole thing makes sense he politiced shaq thats what it was.

At Saturday, November 15, 2008 3:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You acted like Kobe orchestrated Coach K's arrival in L.A., which is a great story except for the small detail that Coach K never took the job.

You have "all the proof"--other than the fact that every single person involved contradicts your position.

In the post-Jordan era, Duncan and Shaq each have won four championships so I don't know who is included in your "everybody" but whoever they are they apparently cannot count. As for "dominance," Duncan won two regular season MVPs to Shaq's one and they each won three Finals MVPs. Duncan has earned more All-NBA First Team selections and is a perennial member of the All-Defensive Team. Shaq is bigger, so you could argue he is more "dominant" in that sense but Duncan has accomplished at least as much if not more than Shaq overall.

How exactly did you become privy to Buss' private thoughts about what he would or would not have done in various scenarios? Buss made it very clear well before the end of that season that he had no intention of giving Shaq max dollars for max years because of Shaq's history of being out of shape. Why else do you suppose that in the preseason that year Shaq screamed at Buss to pay him? Why would Shaq do that at the start of the year unless he doubted that Buss would do so?

Your "whole thing" only makes sense to you because of your persistent disregard for the actual facts of the situation.


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