Not long ago I was having a discussion with Jon Abrams, author of Boys Among Men, about where book ideas come from. “Anywhere and everywhere,” we decided. Two of my best ideas weren’t even my ideas. One editor read a Sports Illustrated piece I had written about helping “coach” the Phoenix Suns in the preseason and thought it could be expanded into a book, and another had the idea that I should revisit the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball team 20 years later. The results were, respectively, Seven Seconds or Less and Dream Team. I thank them.
My latest book idea came to me, I told Jon, when the Doors’s “L.A. Woman” came on the radio. Hmm, I wondered, what year did they record that? The funny thing is, I generally share the opinion of Jim Morrison offered by rock critic Lester Bangs (memorably played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) in “Almost Famous”: “Jim Morrison? He’s a drunken buffoon.” But “L.A. Woman” is pretty damn good, and when I found out it was 1971, I thought, That’s the year I began work as a sports writer, and I wonder what else was going on that year and … wait, it’s the year that the Jerry West-Wilt Chamberlain Lakers began their still-standing-as-a-record 33-game winning streak. I loved West as a player, loved that team and knew West from my days of covering the league. I was in a roomful of Knicks fans in college when West hit his immortal 60-footer to send a 1970 Finals game into overtime and wouldn’t let them hear the end of it. After the Knicks won in overtime, however, they wouldn’t let me hear the end of it.
My original idea for a book was to weave what was going on in everyday life with the Lakers’ streak. You know—Lakers Begin Practice as “Jesus Christ Superstar” opens in New York City, that kind of thing. I love those time-capsule books, partly because they help you remember what you’ve long forgotten.
But when I started talking over the idea with my editors at Ballantine Books/Random House, they had another idea—compare and contrast the Lakers’ streak to the then-ongoing streak of the Golden State Warriors. Two fast-breaking, groundbreaking California teams, interesting personalities, etc. Then it occurred to me that West was the link. “Player on the Lakers, consultant/de facto executive on the other.”
And so was born: GOLDEN DAYS: West’s Lakers, Steph’s Warriors, And The California Dreamers Who Reinveinted Basketball. It’s due out in late October, right around when the season begins, but you can preorder the book here:
Barnes & Noble:
When you work on something for a year, you realize how quickly and dramatically things change in sports. The Warriors’ 2015-16 winning streak was diminished by their losing in the ’16 Finals. Then the news that they had acquired Kevin Durant a few weeks later overwhelmed everything. Then they got on a hot streak at the end of the 2016-17 season that was arguably more impressive than the 27-game streak that extended from the Finals in 2015 through the first month of the 2015-16 season.
As for Jerry West, one of several interviews I did with him over the last year took place at the Las Vegas Summer League in 2016. There he was sitting between his sons Ryan and Jonnie, scouting players for the Golden State Warriors. A year later and he’s now a consultant for the Los Angeles Clippers. Circumstances are different, too, for Ryan, who, after the firing of Mitch Kupchak as general manager, has moved up to assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers. (Jonnie remains as director of programs for the Warriors.)
I found it endlessly fascinating to compare and contrast these teams that are separated by 45 years and so much NBA and cultural history. Comparisons? Both teams needed the infusion of a new coach with new ideas to reach their potential, Bill Sharman for the Lakers, Steve Kerr for the Warriors. Both coaches battled significant health challenges, Sharman with a voice that never recovered after that season, Kerr with recurring back and neck pain from a procedure that went wrong in the offseason of 2015. Contrasts? The Lakers were owned by a pretentious, though admittedly brilliant, Canadian named Jack Kent Cooke, who guarded pennies so carefully that he refused to buy a new projector for Sharman to break down film. The Warriors are owned by the deep-pocketed conglomerate chockfull of Silicon Valley venture capitalists and hedge funders, who operate the franchise with an eye and an ear toward hearing all opinions. You need a projector? Look, instead, here are a dozen virtual reality headsets.
The book is presented in alternating chapters—past Lakers, current Warriors—with West as the narrative link. It is not a biography. With co-author Jonathan Coleman, West published West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life several years ago, a searingly honest look into his life, particularly his formative years in an emotionally cold West Virginia home. I didn’t want to—and couldn’t have anyway—written that same book. But the Lakers’ transcendent 71-72 season deserves a close look, as does the current West. The back story of his departure from the Warriors, and lots of his memories from that hallmark 1971-72 season, are in the book.
A word about the title. From the beginning, which was almost two years ago, Golden was always in it, a play on words that had to do with California being known as “The Golden State,” “golden results,” “golden eras,” “golden boys” like West and Steph Curry, etc. We finally decided on Golden Days, to convey the idea of (mostly) splendid times for two splendid teams. As I was researching this book, Golden: The Miraculous Rise of Steph Curry,” a biography about the Warriors star guard written by Marcus Thompson II, was released. I don’t want there to be any confusion about the books or the thought that I copped a word from the title. I didn’t. Buy Marcus’s book, which came out during the 2016-17 season, if you haven’t already. You can’t read too much about the Warriors, right?
And a word about the subtitle, which includes Steph’s Warriors. I can already hear the hue and cry. Kevin Durant is better than Steph Curry. It’s not Curry’s team. Those are valid points. But although the 2016-17 championship season is covered in detail, the Warriors’ side of the book begins with the making of the team a half dozen years ago, back when K.D. was still with Oklahoma City and Curry was not even remotely considered an MVP. The Warriors rose when Curry rose. (Along with many other factors.)
As far as the Lakers’ side of this, West is the central figure but not the only one. It was a time when giants walked the court, including West’s teammates Wilt Chamberlain (shown in photo directly above between coach Bill Sharman and assistant K.C. Jones with West on the right) and Elgin Baylor, arguably basketball’s–and possibly sports’–most forgotten superstar. (He and Baylor are in the photo above with Lakers coach Fred Schaus, who had coached West in college.) When I casually mentioned what the book was about to some younger hoop fans, I began to realize how much rich NBA history is not known. And the story of the Lakers’ 33-game win streak–the related subplots of West vs. Oscar Robertson and Wilt vs. Bill Russell–is about as intriguing a part of NBA history that there is.
Three of my previous books—Unfinished Business (Boston Celtics), Seven Seconds or Less (Phoenix Suns) and Dream Team (Dream Team obviously)—took deep dives into specific teams. This is a different kind of book, more of a telescopic examination of two teams and two times than a microscopic deconstruction of one. But it does get deep inside of Jerry West, who remains a fascinating figure in this seventh decade as a major basketball figure. Hope you enjoy it.