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.)
Exhaustively reported and eminently readable . . . Three-Ring Circus is a valuable addition to the Kobe Bryant canon—deeply reported and unflinchingly honest. By documenting Bryant’s youthful immaturity and harmful actions, Pearlman offers a fuller picture of a beloved but complicated man.”—Time “Pearlman [is] an amazing journalist with an eye for the revealing detail . . . NBA fans will absolutely devour this book.”—Booklist, starred review “Pearlman excites with this enjoyable, exhaustively reported, and unsparing portrait of the early 2000s Los Angeles Lakers . . . Pearlman’s ability to uncover juicy anecdotes . . . illuminates how egos and immaturity were the Lakers’ fatal opponents. This will be a three-pointer for hoops fans.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review “A must-read for all basketball fans, especially considering Bryant's tragic death in January 2020.”—Library Journal, starred review “Everything you wanted to know about the Los Angeles Lakers in the Kobe and Shaq days . . . More nuanced than the homages following [Bryant’s] tragic death earlier this year . . . [Pearlman] deftly illuminates the many dramatic twists and turns of a unique team . . . Easy reading that will appeal to all fans—and likely raise the ire of a few apologists.”—Kirkus Reviews “Three Ring Circus is a sports-writing classic, reminding us all that greatness can be ugly up close. The book shines in its portrayal of a young Kobe Bryant, as Pearlman pulls back the layers of the polarizing figure to show what it is to ache to be great: the isolation, the loneliness, the super-human drive that such greatness requires, before time, circumstance and age allowed him to evolve.”—Mirin Fader, Bleacher Report
“It stuns me as a writer that somebody could find so many voices and so much detail for such a recollection. It must have been Jeff Pearlman who wrote this.”—Chuck Culpepper, Washington Post “Behind-the-scenes dives into teams never get old, and Jeff Pearlman offers just that into one of the most captivating dynasties. This is a hardcore, uncensored reveal of the enormous egos powering those fascinating and controversial Lakers.”—Marcus Thompson, bestselling author of Golden: The Miraculous Rise of Steph Curry
Conducting interviews with former players and coaches, Pearlman (Showtime; Football for a Buck) profiles the success and discord surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996 to 2004. From the free agent signing of NBA center Shaquille O'Neal to the drafting of high school senior Kobe Bryant, general manager Jerry West orchestrated one of the most dominant dynasties in NBA history. Unpopular with teammates, Bryant is portrayed as lonely and arrogant. In contrast, O'Neal is an undisciplined, yet reliable teammate. After struggling under head coach Del Harris, Phil Jackson tempered the animosity between the two stars. Beyond the Hall of Fame players and coach, Pearlman provides insight into the role of players such as Eddie Jones, Robert Horry, and Rick Fox. Despite the conflicts and jealousy between Bryant and O'Neal, the Lakers won three straight NBA championships between 2000 and 2002. The infighting between the two star players and the rape allegations against Bryant contributed to a turbulent final season in which they lost in the NBA Finals. As Bryant demanded to be the sole superstar, the dynasty ended as Jackson retired and O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat. VERDICT A must-read for all basketball fans, especially considering Bryant's tragic death in January 2020. For a biography of Bryant's life, Roland Lazenby's Showboat will interest readers.—Chris Wilkes, Tazewell Cty. P.L., VA
Everything you wanted to know about the Los Angeles Lakers in the Kobe and Shaq days.
In his second book about the Lakers—after Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s—Pearlman entertainingly chronicles the success of the early-2000s Lakers, who, led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant and coach Phil Jackson, won three consecutive NBA championships and reached four Finals in five years. In the process, the author wades into the collective psyche of modern professional sports, showing the manifestation of monetized idolatry. He demonstrates the belief of many fans that some stars have too much money and self-importance and too little self-awareness; this is reflected most clearly in the narrative via Pearlman’s minibiography of Bryant. More nuanced than the homages following his tragic death earlier this year—which credited his singular focus but often said less about the costs of that focus—Bryant comes off here, in the early years of his career, as less of a spoiled star (though that element is present) than as someone who understandably struggled with becoming a multimillionaire idol as a teenager. As Bryant angled to become a Michael Jordan clone—with skill enough to nearly pull it off—he famously went on trial for rape, which Pearlman discusses in detail. Meanwhile, O’Neal’s big heart toward down-and-out strangers and the guy at the end of the bench is belied by his frequent quarrels with Bryant. Throughout, the author uses a wide frame, giving more than cursory backstory for even minor players. Though he commits a few personal fouls in the form of hyperbole, he deftly illuminates the many dramatic twists and turns of a unique team. The book is not short, but it’s never a slog.
Easy reading that will appeal to all fans—and likely raise the ire of a few apologists.