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This post was originally published on February 9th 2014 on https://kinja.com/joshoffthepressdotcom. It has been re-published (and slightly edited) to be read and housed on this platform/site.
Peter Richmond’s, Biography on Phil Jackson “Lord of the Rings” is a welcome book for all NBA lovers and lovers of Coach Phil Jackson and his philosophy on basketball and more importantly life. I have grown up as a life-long Knicks fan following them closely ever since I was an eleven year old boy (during the 1992-93 season). Yet I have also fallen in love with Phil Jackson’s leadership and basketball prowess. I have always been intrigued by the mystique of Phil Jackson. How he seemed to always get the best out of his players and get under the skin of his opposing Coaches; Like when former Knicks Head Coach Jeff Van Gundy, poked fun at Phil Jackson calling him “The Big Chief Triangle”. I remember Michael Jordan in interviews sharing about Jackson’s love of Zen Buddhism.
So, of course I was hooked the instant I read a book excerpt of Peter Richmond’s on the Deadspin website. http://deadspin.com/the-zen-master-goes-to-la-how-phil-jackson-started-a-l-1490324854.
I took this book out of the library and devoured it in a matter of days. I read it with a critical eye, and truth be told, I was a bit surprised by some of Richmond’s unforced errors, and poor recordings of the history of the NBA. Two of the books Richmond referenced, David Halberstam’s “Playing for Keeps” referenced on p.155, and Bill Simmons “The Book of Basketball”, referenced on p.203, actually contradicts some of the various anecdotes and facts on playoff series that Richmond recorded. He didn’t seem to take full advantage of these two great sources, and double check his memory of things up against theirs.
It is on page 213 where I found one of the two “Biggest” unforced errors of Richmond’s whole book. It was, at this point where I became a “fact checker” of the book, and started researching many of Richmond’s facts of what happened in the NBA, against the facts that I found.
“Indiana proved more challenging, and not only because Rodman, now losing interest, spent parts of the third game riding an exercise bike in the locker room and had to be summoned when Phil wanted to use him….They took the Pacers in six, but the aura was ugly. All that remained was three-peat number two”. Richmond (p.213).
Actually the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals between the Bulls and the Pacers went the full seven games. And no Game was decided by more than 9 points; with the average point differential of every game being only 4.2.
This was probably the most exciting (and possibly the toughest) Bulls Series out of all the series the Bulls played during their Six Championship Seasons.
The only other Series that went the full 7 Games, during Michael Jordan’s and Phil Jackson’s Six Championship Seasons, was the 1992 Eastern Conference Semi Finals vs. the Knicks. http://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/NBA_1992_ECS.html#CHI-NYK. (This series wasn’t as close as the “Bulls v. Pacers” Series. Game 6 was a blow out win for the Knicks Game 7 was a blow out win for the Bulls). Here’s the excerpt of Richmond’s book, where Halberstam’s being referenced. This quote captures the very moments after the Bulls Game 7 Loss to the Pistons in the 1990 ECF (93-74).
“Krause came into the locker room and yelled at the team. This would be the first chink in the relationship between the coach and the GM, the thin edge of the wedge that, six rings later, would end Phil’s Bulls career. Jordan sat in the back of the bus, with his father, and cried. According to the late David Halberstam’s book on Jordan “Playing for Keeps”, he was particularly disappointed in Pippen. Halberstam didn’t mention that Pippen’s father had died earlier in the playoffs”. Richmond (p.155).
So Halberstam missed sharing that fact. Did it poorly impact his book? No, not really. Halberstam’s book on Michael Jordan and the Bulls is (in my personal view) the Gold Standard, to which all sports writers should aspire for. If you are going to pick on a section of Halberstam’s book in your very own book…I think it’s a good idea that yours is factually up to par.
And that Bulls v Pacers Series in 1998 was Epic.
“In game six, the pacers again used their bench as the key to victory….The Bulls kept it close, but in the end were not able to contain Best, and lost 92-89. They were headed for Game 7, and it was clear, as Phil Jackson said later, that this was the toughest series the Bulls had ever faced in their championship years. ONE FOR THE AGED, read the banner headline in the Trib before the game…The Bulls were lucky to have home-court advantage” – Playing for Keeps -David Halberstam (p.379).
Once I uncovered one or two very big historical inaccuracies in the book, it had me want to shine a light on all the other smaller historical inaccuracies. Here are a few more misrepresentations I caught, that Peter Richmond failed to correct, upon his final editing of this book. “As former NBA commissioner David Stern described to me, the best analogy for the game he stewarded for three decades in jazz. ‘It needs structure, and then it needs a riff”’. Richmond (p. 103). The Copyright of Richmond’s Biography is 2013; it was released in (I believe late December 2013 if not early January 2014). Either way, I completed reading this book in January 2014, and David Stern did not retire until February 1, 2014. http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/01/31/retiring-nba-commissioner-david-stern-leaves-a-lasting-legacy/.
Rodman was on San Antonio for two years, not one – http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/r/rodmade01.html. “His year in San Antonio was Miserable”. Richmond (p.195).
In a Game played against the Sixers in Chicago Stadium during the 1989-90 season (Phil Jackson’s first season as Head Coach), Richmond make the claim that this was Barkley’s MVP year. “The Barn was packed to the rafters for a Saturday night showdown. The cocky, first-place Sixers were in town, coached by Whinin’ Jimmy Lynam, led by Charles Barkley, en route to league MVP that year”. Richmond (p.151).
This was the year Charles Barkley got the most first place votes but still lost the MVP to Magic Johnson.
http://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/nba/top-6-nba-mvp-snubs-of-all-time/ss-AAayR0W#image=7 (*original source/link is now defunct – updated one here)
Charles Barkley not winning the MVP this year is also recorded in Bill Simmons Book of Basketball ‘Most Valuable Chapter’: “If you ever run into Charles Barkley for any social reason- at a blackjack table, boxing match, Gambler’s Anonymous, wherever-bring up the 1990 MVP race and watch him go. Here’s what he’ll say: “I had the most first-place votes! That’s the only time that ever happened!”” The Book of Basketball – Bill Simmons (p.253). And here is Richmond’s quote about Simmons; “lets veer away from pure numbers and turn to the expert, eternal chronicler Bill Simmons” Richmond (p.203). That quote is mostly there to display that Richmond did not fully utilize “the expert, eternal chronicler”.
Barkley did win the MVP award on time and that was for the 1992-93 season, his first one with the Phoenix Suns. http://www.nba.com/history/players/barkley_bio.html .
Regarding Horace Grant’s criticism of Michael Jordan skipping out on the Bulls 1991 White House visit after a sports team wins a national championship. “Grant publicly scuffed: ‘it’s a double standard, and it’s been a double standard for four years that I’ve played here’. Jordan wasn’t happy. Horace lasted one more year in Chicago”. Richmond (p.163). Actually Horace Grant played in Chicago through the 1993-94 Season. Richmond even wrote about Horace Grant twenty pages later, him being on the Bulls during the famous (Jordan-less) 1994 playoff series against the Knicks, where on an off-day Jackson lead his team on an NYC Ferry ride. “Horace Grant learned that the Statue of Liberty was a woman” Richmond (p.185).
“Paul Westphal replaced Fittzsimmons, who’d been jettisoned despite a 59 victory season for losing the blazers in the Western Semis the year before”. Richmond (p.177). Phoenix Suns actually won 53 games in 1991-92 Season;
On page.138, Richmond says that Charles Oakley being traded from the Bulls for the Knicks for Bill Cartwright was bad for the Knicks. I don’t buy that for a minute. Oakley embodied the in your face toughness of the 1990s Knicks teams. Oakley (along with John Starks) was Patrick Ewing’s main side-kick. And Cartwright was a Center. Ewing was already manning the middle, so there was no need for Cartwright. The main reason why the Knicks never won a Championship during those years wasn’t because Cartwright wasn’t on the Knicks it was because Michael Jordan wasn’t on the Knicks.
Richmond’s transition to writing about Jackson’s Lakers years is equally not always historically precise or 100% accurate. In fact there was another huge unforced error on Richmond’s part in chronicling one of the most famous series in NBA History. Lakers v. Kings Western Conference Finals 2002: Just check the stats for who had the better regular season record, and consequently who had home-court advantage. http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_2002.html. “Game 6 was in Arco” Richmond (p.252). Wrong! Game 6 was in Staples.
“That night, they went to the stripe 34 times, including 17 trips for Shaq and 11 for Kobe. L.A. took 18 foul shots in the fourth quarter alone”. Richmond (p.252). Wrong again; Wikipedia is not all that bad of a reference point, especially when it is historically accurate.
“The Lakers won Game 6 106-102, attempting 18 more free throws than the Kings in the fourth quarter, and went on to win the 2002 NBA Finals. The referees weren’t named, but the Western Conference Finals was the only 7-game series that year”… The Lakers shot 40 free throws overall, 27 in the 4th quarter alone. They didn’t win the next night either, back in Staples” Richmond (p.253).
You meant ARCO!
While, I don’t think Richmond missed as many of the subtle story-lines of Jackson Coaching the Lakers compared to his Bulls years, he does leave something to be desired for your hard-core basketball junkie. In Ch.22, Richmond talks about how Phil Jackson recruited some old veteran players to help steer the Lakers ship during Phil Jackson’s famous first act.
Richmond talks effusively about Ron Harper throughout this part of the book, but failed to mention Brian Shaw; the current Head Coach of the Denver Nuggets. http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/9419087/denver-nuggets-agree-hire-brian-shaw-head-coach.
The Brian Shaw who played for Jackson’s Championship Lakers Teams (2000-02) was an Assistant Coach and men-tee of Jackson’s those last two Championship years (2009-10); who was also initially considered next in line to replace Phil Jackson as the Lakers Head Coach. http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/story/_/id/6774131/brian-shaw-says-learned-los-angeles-lakers-went-mike-brown-tv.
On Page 282, Richmond references Kobe making a gay slur to a referee during a game in 2009; it was actually in April 2011. http://sports.espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/news/story?id=6344596.
In Ch.29: Richmond talks of the Celtics losing in the Eastern Conference Semi Finals to Orlando, in six games, without an injured Kevin Garnett (who was out for the playoffs). Or without even mentioning how the Celtics were exhausted by a gritty Bulls Team who took them the full 7 Games in Round 1. (The best 7 Game first round series I can remember). “The legit Van Gundy’s, unknowns seemed to be on a mission of their own. Rivers had been outcoached”. Richmond (p.294).
I don’t think Rivers was out-coached. Orlando caught lightening in a bottle that year, being able to make all those 3s throughout the playoffs, and having the uber-athletic Dwight Howard, who by the way won his first of three straight defensive Player of the year awards that year. (Howard was also the youngest player to ever win that award, too). http://www.nba.com/history/awards_defensiveplayer.html
I think Peter Richmond’s investigative in the moment reporting seems quite good, even if his referring back to certain historical archives of famous games and moments in the NBA is not as good. One of the most beneficial things I got out of the book was a whole new treasure chest of references in regards to the whole Michael Jordan gambling scandal, and his father’s tragic murder (Chapter 16). And Richmond seems to have investigated the Kobe Rape Scandal, like he was one of the original writers on the beat. Which, to a great extent he was. http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/10790511/fall-kobe.
The proximity of Phil Jackson’s former home in Woodstock, NY to Richmond’s home-town, Millerton, NY (only about an hour drive apart) seems to have allowed him to really make use of sources in Phil Jackson’s early part of his career (playing and coaching), and his connections to the local community. In a lot of ways, Richmond’s reporting of Jackson’s earlier life was the best part of the book. I give him credit for having a very deep knowledge of the NY Knicks teams Coached by Red Holzman (Champions in 70, and 73). But, too often Richmond strikes me as one of these Baby Boomer New Yorkers, who once the Knicks stopped winning, he stopped paying close attention to the NBA.
Overall, I give this book a C+. If Richmond better chronicled the two series I went into depth discussing, along with all those other errors, I’d probably bring his grade up to a solid B. I would have liked to have seen Richmond talk to some more sources. John Salley and Charlie Rosen are well in good, but it seemed like Richmond had better access to former Bulls GM Jerry Krause, and he didn’t fully take advantage of that. Nor did Richmond seem to speak to many Chicago Bulls or L.A. Lakers Beat writers. I still appreciate the book for what it was, and I am appreciative to Peter Richmond for embarking on writing a Biography about Phil Jackson.
PS – Please check back this weekend for my next article on “Phil Jackson & Carmelo Anthony”
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