Rosen laughs devilishly at the memory of the splattered angel food. "I'm an idealist," he says. "I believe righteousness will eventually triumph. That's what the Bible says. Unfortunately, there were no refs around when the Bible was written. Basically, they screwed up the universe. They never played the game, so they have no feel for it. They don't have the guts to be cops or the brains to be lawyers. They're just little guys with big whistles."
Despite his occasionally angry attitude, Rosen is, at heart, an aging flower child. His head no longer spills over with a vast outcropping of frizzed vegetation, as it used to, but he remains unbuttoned, untucked. A graying beard now dusts his chin, much as salt rims a margarita glass. He abhors cant, bombast, phonies and fakes just as much as he does zone defenses. "I hate politicians," he says with a gritty urban snarl. "I never vote. Never. It only encourages them."
About the only movie Rosen likes is Woodstock, which is where he lives in the off-season. He values honesty, intelligence and the music of the Grateful Dead. If he invites you over to his ramshackle apartment to listen to Dead tapes, then you've passed some very stringent, very idiosyncratic test of character. "The Dead have been together a quarter century, and they're still trying different combinations, evolving, learning," he says. "I hope I have that kind of imagination and enthusiasm, to keep going and keep it fun for my players."
Rosen loves hoops with the single-mindedness that some aging men have for young women. "It's constant movement," he says. "Each move results from another move and leads to yet another. It's the truest form of sport." He has an old-fashioned belief in the game as something noble and pure. "Ballet with defense," he called it in his 1979 manifesto, God, Man and Basketball Jones. "Basketball is a blur of acrobatic giants, perilous abandon, and ram-slam-in-your-mother's-eyes dunk shots. And for even the most casual fan, basketball can be a dribbling, leaping, flowing salvation."
At practice in Oklahoma City, this true believer dribbles, leaps and flows around the court in an AIR DEAD T-shirt. Rosen's Cavalry numbers nine players, so at shootarounds he's the 10th man. During this particular session, he calls 2-B, an out-of-bounds play. Cavalry guard Kelsey Weems takes the inbounds pass but misses the shot.
Rosen lowers his head, presses his fingertips together in contemplation and says, "Or not 2-B."
He boned up on the Bard while playing college ball at Hunter in New York City. In his sophomore year, Rosen began delivering a lot more than soliloquies. He remembers distinctly the day he learned to dish it out. Home team Brooklyn College was winning big in garbage time when its best player, Ed Savage, started trashing Rosen's teammates.
"Cool it!" said Rosen.
"Screw you!" said Savage.
Rosen asked his coach for advice. "Get him," said the coach.