Books What makes hoops' Zen master Phil tick? Common sense and self-interest

March 19, 2001

MORE THAN A GAME
By Phil Jackson and Charley Rosen/Seven Stories Press, $24.95

MINDGAMES: Phil Jackson's Long Strange Journey
By Roland Lazenby/Contemporary Books, $23.95

Jackson's inner self has been offered up before--most memorably by
Jackson himself, in his 1975 book, Maverick: More Than a Game--as
a major field of study, something as tangible, as, say, Shaquille
O'Neal's titanic torso. These two recent offerings promise more
out-there musings by and about roundball's Zen master. But while
each of these worthy works performs a few pick-and-rolls with the
transcendental part of Jax's personality, for the most part they
concentrate on the man's corporeal basketball life, and I, for
one, am glad.

The far-out Phil we so want to think still exists has long ago
slipped out of his tie-dyes, and in his place is an Armani-suited
adult who has learned, as the best NBA coaches do, the league's
hard lessons. Know your X's and O's and be able to exploit
matchups on the fly. Hire excellent assistant coaches. Let the
players be the show. Compromise your principles for your best
players (as Red Auerbach did with Bill Russell and Jackson did
with Michael Jordan). Finally, by all means try to coach the team
with the best players (as Auerbach did with the Boston Celtics,
Pat Riley did with the Los Angeles Lakers of the '80s and Jackson
did with the Chicago Bulls, and is now doing with the
Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers).

The collaboration between Jackson and Rosen (a longtime court
crony of Jackson's) is so grounded that it even provides a
helpful hoops glossary. ("Lag Pass. A pass made from one guard to
another guard who's positioned farther away from the basket. This
facilitates reverse action.") It also delves into the technical
aspects of the triangle offense that Jackson installed, over
Jordan's initial objections, in Chicago. In doing so, More Than a
Game pays homage to the triangle's apostle, Tex Winter, a
delightful supporting actor who has been a big part of Jackson's
success in Chicago and L.A.

Jackson and Rosen are soul mates, and their friendship is so
strong that they can write about the tension that existed
between them when Jackson did not give his onetime Albany (N.Y.)
Patroons assistant a job on his Bulls staff. This
you-write-one-chapter-I'll-write-the-next format doesn't always
work in books, but Jackson and Rosen pull it off, though I don't
know how much help professional writer Charley provided
professional coach Phil with his punctuation and his predicate
nominatives.

Lazenby, a freelance writer and journalism teacher at Virginia
Tech, is a dogged chronicler of the NBA, and while many of the
400 pages in Mindgames are plodding and deliberate--the literary
equivalent of a typical NBA offense--the book is essential for
Bulls fans, traveling as it does through the prechampionship
years and spending time with Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis
Rodman et al. With this cast of characters, plus Winter, Bulls
general manager Jerry (Crumbs) Krause and former Chicago
assistant Johnny Bach, it's O.K. that Jackson sometimes fades
into the background. Similarly, in the Rosen chapters of More
Than a Game, Charley gets to talk about other subjects (his
boyhood, his CBA coaching career, his take on Winter). However,
if the Lakers don't find their bearings and win a second straight
championship, I'll be waiting for the account through Jackson's
filter.

COLOR PHOTO: SEVEN STORIES PRESS COLOR PHOTO: CONTEMPORARY BOOKS

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