I first discovered Charley Rosen in the summer of 2004, when I went from being a mild basketball fan, to developing a full-blown love for the sport. Growing up, I gravitated towards baseball and football because both sports were relatively easy to pick up. The basketball players at school were from a different physical mold altogether.
I always loved playing in P.E. and in friend’s driveways, but it wasn’t until I was about 21 that I started playing pickup ball on the regular. This was when I got my first inkling of the many nuances to playing hoops. I only knew to dribble ball, shoot the ball, and sometimes (if I wasn’t double teamed) pass the ball. The concept of rolling towards the basket after a screen was foreign. I thought rebounding was about outjumping the other people in the paint (What? Me? boxout? Why?).
I had found a summer job, at my university, working as a clerk in the biology stockroom. When I wasn’t running errands across campus, I was on ESPN’s Page 2 (think Grantland but without all the cursing) and FoxSports.com. FoxSports was more football heavy, but they had some decent basketball writers on their roster. Mark Kriegel (wrote a biography on Pistol Pete Maravich), and Jeff Goodman usually had something interesting to say, but Charley Rosen’s articles always had a nugget of basketball insight that I could think about on the court during those late night runs at the school recreation center.
For example, it had never occurred to me that at best, a non superstar player would get to touch the ball 20 percent of the time, and that the other 80 percent of the time spent on the court is how a player should be judged. From that point on, I started to pay attention to watching off the ball activity just as much as the ballhandler.
It was through Rosen’s column that I discovered that he’d help Phil Jackson write More Than a Game, and Maverick. I spent the summer reading those books in an attempt to absorb anything I could to help me understand the game better. All of this happened to coincide with the 2004 Pistons-Lakers NBA Finals, and it was fascinating to take what I was reading and apply it to what I was seeing on television.
Charley Rosen was also the first person I’d ever seen write in print that Kevin Love was overrated. This was around 2010-2011, and he said something to the effect of “look at that roster (in Minnesota) someone has to get those points and rebounds.” Keep in mind that he’d also once said Lebron James would be an average NBA player at best.
There was also one column that Rosen had written about a trip he’d taken to Amsterdam with his wife and another couple, where he and his friend ditched their wives on the way to the Van Gogh museum to play pickup ball at a park. That’s the kind of madness I can get down with (I personally enjoyed the Pablo Picasso “Blue Years Series” exhibit more than the Van Gogh stuff on my visit there. He probably didn’t miss much).
You may have also heard about the famous “Phil Files” he wrote for ESPN a year ago, after Phil Jackson’s first year as Knicks Team President. I still have yet to read all the installments, but its been highly discussed (at times ridiculed) on various blog and media sites.
His book, Crazy Basketball resonates with me because Rosen wasn’t the most skilled individual to play the game. His best offer for a scholarship was at Hunter College in New York City. He was a 6’9 bruising big man whose game was predicated on strength and will. He played in the Eastern Basketball League before taking on various jobs as a free-lance writer, college professor, summer camp counselor, and basketball coach.
He was a free-lance basketball writer living in New York City, when he met Phil Jackson–then a player for the Knicks, and they became good friends (both really big fans of Grateful Dead apparently). The joint collaboration on Maverick cemented their friendship, and during Jackson’s coaching days in the now defunct Continental Basketball Association, Rosen served as his assistant, on the Albany Patroons. When Phil took an assistant coaching job in Chicago, Rosen went on to serve as a head coach in Rockford, Illinois, Savannah, Georgia, and Oklahoma City.
There are some great stories culled from these experiences, as the CBA had a roll call of NBA names who stopped through on their way to the league. It is easy to forget that it hasn’t even been 10 years since the CBA went belly up. Rosen brings the league back to life with his anecdotes of players like John Starks (Rosen says he wasn’t shocked when Starks choked in game 6 of the ’94 Finals), Steve Javie, and Dick Bavetta (something tells me Rosen doesn’t have him on his Hanukkah list).
Things were not always easy for Rosen (the salaries he made as a head coach seem laughable at best compared to what NBA coaches get), he battled health problems, anger issues, and endured 3 divorces to still make the life he wanted to create. I find Crazy Basketball such an inspiring read because Rosen admittedly wasn’t the best player, and wasn’t the best X’s and O’s coach, but his passion for the game is contagious. Charley Rosen proves that you don’t have to be a genius coach, or an elite level athlete to find a way to honor the game and become an ambassador for the sport.
Phil Jackson credits Rosen for coining the phrase, “Basketball isn’t just a metaphor for life–it’s more important that!” and writes a very eloquent foreword that illustrates the deep bond between the two men. For anyone interested in more than the flashier aspects of today’s NBA–the dunks, memes, and highlight reels, then I recommend that you at least skim through it–even it is just for the Dick Bavetta anecdotes.