More Than A Game: A Book Review

Characteristics of a Sound Offense (According to Phil Jackson and Charley Rosen)

1. Must penetrate the defense.

      a)Create good % shots. Define what is a good shot for each player

      b) Stress inside power game. Play for the 3 pt. power play.

      c)Break down all defenses from full court presses to double teams.

2. Transition basketball starts on defense. Look to run!

3. Provides proper floor spacing 15’-18’, creating an operating room and clearing area on the court. Keeps defense occupied on and off the ball.

4.Provides player and ball movement with a purpose. There is only one ball and 5 players. All things being equal, a player is without the ball 80 % of the time.

5. Provides strong rebound position and good defensive balance on all good shot.

6.Provides the player with the ball an opportunity to pass to any of his teammates.Utilize the abilities of the individual players. Must create high % shots for a team’s best shooters, rebound opportunities for best drivers.

 

 

More Than A Game is as close to a philosophy book as you will find on the game of basketball. A coach is only as successful as their coaching philosophy. John Wooden had his Pyramid of Success, Don Nelson had Nellie-ball, which was about creating defensive mismatches by having the best five offensive players on the court at one time, and Tex Winters had the Triangle Offense (also called the Triple Post); which hit the peak of its success when Phil Jackson implemented it with the Chicago Bulls, and later with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Though some chapters are dedicated to filling in the gaps of the coauthor’s lives, the book doesn’t get bogged down in the “who, what, and why’s”. The narrative thread is seamless despite the jumps in place and time. The reader learns  about Jackson’s Knicks days and how he met Rosen during this time period.

Phil discusses his upbringing and the road that led him to him abandon the Pentecostal concepts of sinning, the afterlife, and redemption, for Zen Christianity (essentially trading in a belief in the otherworldly for something tangible and non-theistic). Jackson expresses how the attraction for the Triangle philosophy almost mirrors his personal religious aesthetic, as he recites the Noble Eightfold Path and how it relates to hoops:

  • Right Understanding
  • Right Thought
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration

Jackson goes on to further explain that “Right thought means being in the moment as much as humanly possible. Right action means playing every play, every quarter, every game to its fullest.Winning is only the secondary effect of right thinking and right action.”

Jackson embrace of the Triangle Offense came when he and Tex Winter were Bulls assistant coaches under Doug Collins. Jackson thought the Winter’s offensive scheme reminded him of his time playing for Red Holtzman (who Phil got to watch up close when he was on the bench with a back injury). When Phil was finally promoted to head coach (after Doug Collins’ dismissal), he kept Winter on as an assistant and let Winter install the offense that both credit for their coaching success. Why was it so successful? According to Phil Jackson:

  • Provides a clear purpose and direction with implicit goals.
  • Trains and educates new people, who in turn learn how they can contribute.
  • It rewards unselfish behavior which in turn renews the system.
  • Makes for easier transition through times of change.
  • Provides context within which a leader can integrate all the skills of the team.

The Bulls were able to win 6 titles despite not ever having a dominate point guard or center, and the Lakers managed to win multiple titles with a bunch of role players (some of them scrubs) filling the stat sheet with whatever Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal could not do themselves.

Some of the other highlights from this book are

  • Getting confirmation from both Charley Rosen and Phil Jackson that Rick Barry is indeed an asshole.
  • Jim Cleamons theory on why east coast bred players practice harder than west coast guys.
  • A scene with Phil, Charley, and Tex watching an instructional video by “Pistol” Pete Maravich and discussing the phenomenon of the palming violation.
  • Phil’s and Charley’s collective coaching experiences in the Puerto Rico Superior League and CBA.
  • Jim Cleamons and Quinn Buckner’s (separate) attempts to install the triple post offense as head coaches in Dallas, and the player reactions.
  • Despite Portland going 13 straight possessions without scoring, the Trailblazers lost not because they choked, but because they were gassed from coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the 1999-2000 conference finals.
  • The genesis of the triangle going all the way back to USC coach Sam Barry’s “Center Option with a reverse action” playbook.

 

Littered with hoops jargon and diagrams that illustrate the basic ways to fill a triangle; More Than a Game strikes a beautiful balance of real life experiences with  X’s and O’s. The symmetry of Jackson and Rosen’s storytelling reveals accuracy of the phrase “basketball is an expression of life.” Each experience is treated as merely another step on the path to basketball nirvana. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to go into coaching–basketball or otherwise. A+

BM

 

 profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at FullsassStudios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

Crazy Basketball : A Book Review

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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.

BM