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 age 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.