Rob Vanstone's favourite author, Jeff Pearlman, releases his latest book — another one about the Los Angeles Lakers — on Tuesday.
In this appraisal, Jeff Pearlman wrote the book on how to write a book.
Interview everybody — not just the prominent figures.
Approach each interview with curiosity, passion and the utmost preparedness.
Focus on details, details, details, turning little nuggets into gleaming gold.
Embrace honesty, even if a warts-and-all portrayal may not reflect positively on some sacred cows, to ensure that the real story is told.
Do the material justice with superlative, colourful writing.
That being done, promote the book relentlessly, being accessible to media outlets large and small.
Pearlman makes this formula work, time after time, which explains why he is a fixture on the New York Times Best Sellers list.
His latest book — No. 9 in the collection — is Three-Ring Circus, about the Los Angeles Lakers’ dynasty as it existed from 1996 to 2004.
As only he can, Pearlman tells the story of an NBA team that featured two superstar players — Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal — and a legendary head coach, Phil Jackson.
Three-Ring Circus is to be released Tuesday. I expect to have it read by Wednesday.
Pearlman is my favourite author (I am a very distant second on that list). If he writes it, I buy it … and devour it … and love it. It’s that simple.
He could write a book about the history of cricket in Madagascar and it would be a guaranteed page-turner. He’s that good … that great.
Give him subject matter such as Lakers teams that owned Tinseltown and, from an avid reader’s standpoint, there is bound to be a voracious appetite for the finished product.
Consider Pearlman’s second Lakers book — which follows Showtime, about the era of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pat Riley, et al.
What makes the period spanning 1996 to 2004 such a compelling study?
“I mean, huge characters,” Pearlman says. “Huger than huge. Shaq! Kobe! Phil! (Mark) Madsen! Maybe not Madsen. But huge characters, untapped narrative, an era that’s long enough past to evoke feelings of nostalgia.
“Plus, my last NBA book was about the Magic era, and that ended really abruptly — HIV and all. So I thought there was a sequel-type book to write. And here I sit.”
The original draft of Three-Ring Circus was pretty much completed when Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 — a tragedy that necessitated last-minute revisions.
Unchanged was the philosophy of Pearlman, who did not shy away from documenting aspects of Bryant’s life and career that may be viewed as unflattering. At the same time, the former Sports Illustrated scribe understands the sensitivities of the situation.
“It’s uncomfortable, because there’s a pretty sincere reality, which is a lot of the material in this book would not have been made available had the interviews taken place after Jan. 26, 2020,” Pearlman says.
“I mean, it’s much easier to lambaste someone, or speak of someone’s shortcomings, when that person is alive. So now I have this book, and I put everything I had into it, and it’s not an attack of Kobe Bryant at all, but it’s a pretty unvarnished look.
“And … it’s awkward. It is. So I’m just rolling with it best I can, and repeating the sincere-yet-tired line: ‘This is a glimmer of a section of his life, not the entirety …’
“So, Rob, this is a glimmer of a section of his life. Not the entirety.”
The entirety of the Pearlman collection is highly recommended.
The Bad Guys Won, about the 1986 New York Mets, is a rollicking read. It begins with a hilarious, eye-popping recollection of a chaotic plane ride home after the Mets won the National League Championship Series. That chapter, titled Food Flight, fuelled this scribbler’s addiction to all things Pearlman.
Boys Will Be Boys, about the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, tells the story of an NFL team that was dominant on the field and legendary, in a different way, away from the gridiron.
Biographies of sporting luminaries Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Brett Favre and Walter Payton also fall into the must-read category.
In the case of Payton, Pearlman offers another “unvarnished” look at a deceased subject — an approach that prompted unfounded criticism from people who hadn’t actually taken the time to read the book, entitled Sweetness.
As for Gunslinger, about Favre, Pearlman made every page sing by adhering to the credo of talking to everyone with even a tertiary connection to the life and times of a prominent subject.
“My general, oft-repeated philosophy is this: Brett Favre won’t remember the free-agent halfback from Bucknell who spent two weeks in Packers camp in 1998. But the free-agent halfback from Bucknell will remember every engagement he had with Brett Favre,” Pearlman says.
“Those insights, those memories … they’re invaluable.”
An invaluable addition to any library is Football for a Buck, about the United States Football League.
USFL games were played for only three seasons (1983 to 1985), but Pearlman collected enough priceless stories to last a lifetime.
Donald Trump, owner of the New Jersey Generals, played an instrumental role in the unravelling of the USFL. Other big names, such as Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Doug Flutie and Herschel Walker, are included.
Former Saskatchewan Roughriders receivers Hugh Campbell and Joey Walters were also part of the USFL equation. Campbell coached the Los Angeles Express. Pearlman ranked Walters, who played for the Washington Federals and Orlando Renegades, as the 14th-best player in USFL history.
However, revealing — and often side-splitting — interviews with virtually anonymous figures turned Football for a Buck into a master work.
“I loved, loved, loved, loved it!” Pearlman says. “Most fun I’ve ever had writing a book. Most fun I’ll ever have writing a book.
“First, because the USFL was my favourite league as a kid. Second, because I was told not to write the book. Third, because the people were tremendous and open and available. I mean, it was a non-stop buffet of weirdness. And I’m addicted to weird.”
I’m addicted to Jeff Pearlman books — as if that wasn’t evident by now.
Friends of mine, such as Chris Garton and Jayson Hajdu, are of the same mindset. We have had lively debates as to which book is Pearlman’s finest. The discussions are akin to “pick the cutest puppy out of the litter.”
With that in mind, Tuesday — and the much-anticipated release of Three-Ring Circus — cannot arrive quickly enough.