Phil Jackson, basketball coach and bibliophile, recently resumed a practice he began when he was running the Bulls by assigning books to the players on his new team, the Lakers. A volume of philosophy by Friedrich Nietzsche ("Man is a rope between the animal and the Superman") was given to center Shaquille O'Neal (who has a Superman tattoo on his left biceps). A redneck travelogue (Confederates in the Attic) was presented to West Virginia-reared general manager Jerry West. And the fictional story of a black child of Uncle Toms raised in white Santa Monica (The White Boy Shuffle) was earmarked for guard Kobe Bryant (who is the son of a former NBA player and spent part of his childhood in Italy). "Given the provocative content [of White Boy]," The New York Times reported, "[ Bryant] thought Jackson assumed a bit too much about his upbringing so early in their relationship."
Alas, it was not the first time Big Chief Triangle tragically misread an athlete. Or a book title. Or both, as revealed in Jackson's prodigious, and shockingly presumptuous, Amazon.com gift-giving profile. Illegally hacked into by a mysterious cyberfelon—firstname.lastname@example.org—the document, like Jackson himself, speaks volumes.
"For Shaquille O'Neal, who grew up black and Irish," Jackson once had inscribed in a copy he ordered of 'Tis, "a memoir about the miserable Irish childhood of Wayman Tisdale." (Wrong on both counts.)
Likewise, Hamlet is not (as Jackson erroneously had written on a gift card) "a contraction of 'ham omelet' "—which surely disappointed its recipient, Suns center Oliver Miller.
Had he looked more closely at the title page, Jackson would have known that David Mamet never published a play called Glengarry Glen Rice, and that the tale of ruthless realtors that he purchased (Glengarry Glen Ross) would be far less appealing to his self-involved small forward.
Speaking of which: When Scottie Pippen (now with the Trail Blazers) bristled under Jackson in Chicago, the coach left in his locker a copy of Beowulf. "It's about two troubled stars named Scott," Jackson claimed. "Charles in Charge star Scott Baio, and Party of Five star Scott Wolf." (It isn't.)
Contrary to reports, Jackson appears to know little of literature or motivational psychology. Little Women is not—despite what Jackson may have told 5'3" Raptors guard Tyrone Bogues—the novelization of an all-midget, soft-core Spectravision feature Muggsy once found diverting.
Nor is Naked Lunch a lifestyle manual. (In hindsight, Jackson regrets having implied that it was when he FedExed it to former baseball manager Dick Williams, c/o the Veranda, Room 207, Radisson Hotel, Fort Myers, Fla.)
Look, we're all in favor of encouraging people to read. But it was insensitive at best for Jackson—who remains a close friend of Michael Jordan's—to lend ex-Washington coach Gar Heard his dog-eared copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ("about a messianic new Wizard who makes people disappear").
At least he knew the plot. More often, in his compulsion to recommend a good read, Jackson appears to be guessing. Surely, had the coach known it was about a clubfooted orphan, he would never have steered Dennis Rodman to Of Human Bondage.