Every year Phil Jackson gives a book to members of his Los Angeles Lakers squad that he thinks suit their personalities. Some players, like Kobe Bryant never read the book assigned to them, though Jackson continues to give them out every years without fail. I imagine that other players, like Derek Fisher, pore over the tome assigned to them and attempt to find meaning in the text.
However, often times, Jackson's choices can inspire. For example, he gave Pau Gasol Roberto Bolano's 2666, a posthumous post-modern text written that requires long nights with a furrowed brow. Other choice are lazy, such as his bequeathing of Barack Obama's Dreams of My Father to Shannon Brown, which lacked both imagination and originality.
Since this is now an annual tradition, the book-giving process has become a yearly story and another chance to praise the genius of Phil Jackson. Jackson does deserve credit -- it a truly original idea that deflects attention and criticism from his players and detracts from the idea that all NBA players are lunkheads. However, as a Wizards fan, there are only so many times that I can read about Jackson passing out another copy of Sun Tzu's Art of War or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance without wanting to email Jackson and invite him to my book club so that he can expand his tastes. Well, either that or clock him over the head with a copy of Sacred Hoops.
It is unlikely that Flip Saunders is going to ever assign his own reading list. Flip is going to have a hard enough time teaching discipline and his offensive system to his young charges to worry about burdening them with a reading assignment.
Therefore I am appointing myself as the official Wizards librarian and handing out book requirements for each Wizard prior to the start of the season. Recommendations are broken into three categories: magazine subscriptions for players who I think need little refinement to their game or character, a suggested reading list for players who I think need a slight nudge and a required reading list for players who cannot report to camp with finishing their assigned text.
John Wall - Forbes
Wall has done nothing but raise my expectations with his display of technique and leadership this summer. The best thing I can do is to give him subscription to Forbes so that he can begin learning how to invest the millions of dollars he is likely to make over the next decade.
Trevor Booker - Soldier of Fortune
It is great when a player arrives knowing exactly what his role is going to be on the team. Booker is pegged as the Wizards grit guy, the man who will go and grab rebounds and set nasty picks. I want the "Grown Ass Man" to further refine his nasty edge and develop into Charles Oakley 2.0, so he receives a subscription to a magazine that should teach him all sorts of dirty tricks. However, he is not allowed to loan the magazine to Gilbert.
Kevin Seraphin - Washingtonian
I was originally go the easy route and give Seraphin a French-to-English phrase book. I quickly realized this was a mistake, as half of his charm lies in the fact that he can only communicate in threatening gesticulations. Seraphin has the chance to be our greatest import since Gheorghe Muresan, so I want him him out there in the DMV communicating his love for Wizards basketball. He can use his subscription to the Washingtonian to figure out which places to visit, and hopefully Wizards fans will teach him a few choice epithets for Lebron James.
Hilton Armstrong - Harpers
The life of a backup NBA center is a lonely one. However, it doesn't have to one that is intellectually barren. I would like Hilton to keep his fellow benchwarmers loose by engaging them in conversations about international policy and literature. I want to greet starters as they return to the bench during a timeout with choice bon mots. At the worst, Harpers has puzzles, which should keep him occupied during those dreary games against Indiana.
Kirk Hinrich - A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
I feel terrible for Kirk Hinrich. He appears to be such a serious young man. And now he finds himself on a team where players wear mohawks for the playoffs, steal each others rims and tweet about their rankings in video games. To say that there is an apparent style clash in an understatement.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again is David Foster Wallace's recounting of his time aboard a cruise ship in which he is slowly crushed by the inanity and crass materialism of the people that surround him. Wallace ends up spending most of the cruise in his tiny cabin, slowly being driven to despair by the enforced cheerfulness and the all you can eat buffets.
Hinrich's cruise is two years in length, and if he expects to survive with his sanity intact he will have to loosen up a bit to fit in with his teammates. Wallaces's piece is meant as a cautionary tale of what can happen to an individual if they don't adjust their expectations, and I'd prefer that Hinrich not boil over the first time he finds his car keys missing.
Al Thornton - The Short Stories by Earnest Hemingway
John passed me the ball. I took the ball and I shot it. The ball went in. The crowd let forth a cheer. When I get the ball again, I shall shoot it. Shooting is a practical act. Some shoot fairly well, but none shoot as well as I.
Yi Jianlian- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Yi's performance at the World's reminded me a lot of Scott Pilgrim's steady demolition of the seven evil ex-boyfriends. It came from an unexpected source, it was noisy, and you hope for more from the creator in the future. While I doubt that Yi will become a one-man wrecking crew this year, hopefully some part of his performance this summer will translate to greater production in the NBA. Otherwise he might end up like Scott Pilgrim, plying his trade in cold Toronto where international players go to die.
Josh Howard - The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Howard's career resembles that of Fitzgerald's titular character: a great rise followed by a precipitous fall. After having risen to prominence in Dallas, Howard was ridden out of town on a rail at the trade deadline, with Mavericks management conveniently releasing several unflattering stories about his activities. His reemergence is Washington was tragically cut short by a freak injury. All great American lives get second acts, and this year is Howard's chance to take vengeance on the league which has spurned him.
Nick Young - The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feedin
A little life with dried tubers.
The Wasteland is one of the most discussed poems of the 20th century, a rumination on the decay and stagnation of one's life and talents. This is the year for Nick Young. He either harnesses his vast abilities for the Washington Wizards or heads for the next stop on the train towards NBA journeyman. He stands on the precipice of his own wasteland, and it is up to him whether he enters it or not.
Andray Blatche - Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
The selection of Twilight is not meant as a comment on Blatche's reading level of tastes. Instead, it as meant as a warning that all things popular are not necessarily good. Meyer's runaway hit has now encountered critical and cultural backlash, as many point to the weakness of the prose and the flimsy and translucent plot.
Andray Blatche is riding high right now in the favor of Wizards fans, parlaying a breakout performance for a losing team into a long-term contract and greater expectations from the fanbase. Blatche now needs to decide whether he is the flavor of the month like vampires, or whether his career will be longer lasting and ultimately more fulfilling.
JaVale McGee - The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
A highly effective center does the following things:
- He boxes out like a Mack truck.
- He defends the paint with the
veracityferocity of a mother bear protecting newborn cubs.
- He doesn't roll too early on the pick and roll.
- He blocks the ball to his teammate rather than out of bounds.
- He only only gets upfaked once, perhaps twice, during games.
- He doesn't attempt layups from the foul line. (Unless they are TOTALLY awesome.)
- He become the vocal heart of the defense.
Gilbert Arenas - The War Against Cliche by Martin Amis
The most criticized member of the Wizards receives a book of criticism. Arenas' entire career has been a war against cliche, as he has broken down the barriers of how we expect NBA superstars to act with fans and media. He has been funny, engaging, and tip toed up to and across the line of what is appropriate throughout his career.
However, that same openness has made him a target, both for people who prefer their athletes more humble and national media members who refused to take his act at face value. Perhaps the condemnation of Arenas can be seen as a latent form of jealousy, the entire Agent Zero persona judged on a series of poor judgements during the winter of 2009.
Arenas receives this book because even the best artists are critiqued, perhaps mercilessly so throughout their careers. No matter what Arenas does, there will always be someone who will remind him of the events of last year. It is up to Arenas to make sure that those actions become merely a footnote, and his critics are forced to realize his basketball prowess.