See the ball!" coach Red Holzman would bark at #18 in the glory days of the New York Knicks, and Phil Jackson with his Ichabod Crane body—all arms, elbows and shirt-hanger shoulders—would "windmill" his opponent trying to inbound the basketball. And more often than not, he would cause such havoc that the pass would go astray or be picked off by the Knicks, often resulting in an easy two points.

Jackson won his last championship as a player on the 1972—1973 Knicks, but 28 years later he is still seeing the ball better than ever as the head coach of the World Champion Los Angeles Lakers. PW caught up with Jackson and his old friend and front-court writing partner, Charley Rosen, at New York's Plaza Hotel just before the Lakers went across the Hudson to play the New Jersey Nets last February.

Jackson, known for his erudite, Zen-like approach to the game and life in general, and Rosen, former college professor, minor league basketball coach and the author of five books in the same number of years, greet each other with the casualness of friends of 30 years. Immediately the talk turns to books as Jackson starts pulling titles from a plastic Borders shopping bag. "This one's for Shaq," Jackson says, referring to his star center Shaquille O'Neal, as he smilingly holds up a paperback copy of Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.

Jackson, Rosen and PW adjourn to the former Oak Room of the Plaza, now renamed One C.P.S., and in the shadow of General Sherman's statue across the street at the entrance to Central Park, Caesar salads are ordered and the talk quickly turns to Jackson and Rosen's new book from Seven Stories Press.

More Than a Game is a book in many parts: dual biographies, philosophical musing, instructional manual and diary of the 2000 Los Angeles Lakers. According to Jackson, the book is about "what's happened to the game, what's happened to the team concept of basketball." Pro basketball, according to Jackson, "has become so individualized that it's affecting the game, the effort of the game and how it's being played, and how people are enjoying it. And the emphasis that the NBA is placing on the stars as the main attraction of the game, rather than the game itself being the attraction, this is what was really the seed that developed into this book."

Although the concept of the book sounds conservative and traditional, the answers that Jackson and Rosen provide are actually very radical. Not surprising when you consider the divergent backgrounds of the coauthors. PW is forced to ask just exactly how the son of a card-carrying Bronx Communist (Rosen) and the son of a Montana Pentecostal minister (Jackson) came to have this great, long-term relationship. Basketball had to be the catalyst. "I think so," says Rosen. "I think in a sense, though, we were both outside the mainstream. At least our childhoods were coming from different directions, but still we had a different kind of vision than the normal cultural situation, and we had a vision of the possibilities of basketball, of the purity that's there."

Jackson concurs: "Charley was an English professor. I loved to read, and we have read a lot of common things together. There's a lot of byplay about our reading, and just in that form alone we had a natural ground on which to talk—about books, philosophy, New York City, basketball. Then playing together in our mid-30s all lent itself to this friendship."

More Than a Game is not their first collaboration. That was Maverick , published in 1975, when Jackson was thought to be basketball's answer to Joe Namath—long hair, beard, hippie instincts and—in Maverick—the revelation of an acid trip. "That was an 'as told to,' " says Jackson. "I was 29, and Charley convinced me that I had such a different outlook on life, it was so unique to his mindset, that he and I should collaborate on this book about it. Looking back at it, it was an interesting look at basketball 25 years ago."

"You always said that my voice was too strong," interjects Rosen, not unlike a bantering spouse. "That it was more me, more my colorization."

"I wasn't totally satisfied with it," returns Jackson, "but I do know that it had its own voice and had its own space in basketball."

"It's better than he thinks it is!" Rosen stridently replies, capping the repartee.

After Jackson's pro career ended, he took shots at broadcasting and being an assistant coach for the New Jersey Nets. This eventually led him to become head coach of the Albany Patroons of the minor league CBA. Rosen went along as an assistant coach. A shoot-from-the-hip natural storyteller, Rosen relates in More Than a Game how assistant coaches were not allowed to travel with the team when it went on the road. Always industrious, Rosen relates how he became an "accredited" trainer just to remain with the team both home and away. He went on to became a head coach in his own right in the CBA, telling hilarious stories about referees ("A necessary evil!"), riots he perpetrated and participated in, and players being traded in exchange for sexual favors.

While Rosen toiled in the CBA, Jackson had worked his way back to the NBA, where he became an assistant coach on the Chicago Bulls—Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls. The only problem with the Bulls is that they couldn't get over the hump and win the big one. Lots of talent, everyone knew, but no championships. When Jackson was appointed head coach in 1989, the first thing he did was to introduce the Triangle Offense, a complicated strategy that emphasizes movement without the ball. It did not take at first. In fact, one of Jackson's biggest obstacles was Michael Jordan himself, who referred to the Triangle as "a white man's offense."

Jackson had played a variation of the Triangle under Hall-of-Fame coach Red Holzman with the Knicks as far back as the '70s. He brought in the foremost exponent of the Triangle, Tex Winter, and continued to sell the recalcitrant Bulls. The proselytizing paid off as the Bulls won their first championship in 1991 and added five more flags during the decade, before Michael Jordan retired. "It took the Bulls more than a year before everyone felt comfortable doing it," says Rosen, also a proponent of the Triangle during his coaching days. "And I think that's a factor, too, because of the time it takes again for a team to not even master it, but to feel comfortable doing it. How many coaches have that time?"

Sports teams are notorious copycats for success. But there's not much copying of the Triangle in the NBA, although Jackson has won seven championships with it (only two shy of Red Auerbach's record of nine with the Boston Celtics). "Piecemeal, you'll see it a lot in the NBA," says Jackson, "but to teach it as a whole system is very difficult."

Jackson is also outspoken on the negativity of the media. He spoke to PW at the height of the Shaquille O'Neal—Kobe Bryant "feud," a controversy that Jackson clearly wishes would go away. "I think the media is great for our game," says Jackson, "but it grates on me that there's a little blip on our screen, for example, with Kobe and Shaq having this so-called 'irritability' that they're going through, and then the press won't leave it alone for six weeks." Jackson, a man who was once part of the media as a color commentator on radio and TV, doesn't really seem that upset. In fact, one can argue that he is an excellent manipulator of the media himself since he twice turns off PW's tape recorder to insure that what is "off-the-record" remains off-the-record. "You know," he adds, "[NBA Commissioner David] Stern says that it's a group of middle-aged white reporters that are looking at 20-something black kids and not having a rapport, not understanding their lifestyle, painting a picture of the NBA in a bad light, but I'm not going to go that far. "

"I do think that it has a negative effect on some of these kids as they grow," adds Rosen, "as they develop. And they watch SportsCenter, and they see dunk shots and they see this and they see that. The spectacular is always emphasized, which I guess it has to be when you show the highlights. It's show biz, but kids don't really learn the game, understanding the broader aspects—they don't know how to play without the ball."

Jackson's elevation to head coach of the Bull also put a strain on his longtime relationship with Rosen. Jackson almost hired him as an assistant coach in Chicago, but the deal fell through. They did not speak for 18 months until they were bought together by the death of their friend Eddie Mast. "I think it was basically Charley being able to forgive me for not taking him along on this ride that I was on," says Jackson in front of his friend. "It looked so easy, and there's so much money in this business, yet the price to pay in this business is still high. And I value his friendship too much to risk what we might lose if he became an assistant coach for me. I knew his value [on the sidelines] would be great, but even more so I value what he does as a writer because he has more creativity that he can express as a writer then he can possibly express as a coach."

"It worked out OK," agrees Rosen. "I'm better off where I am." And there is only one word to describe him—prolific. First there was The House of Moses All-Stars: A Novel (1996), followed by Barney Polan's Game: A Novel of the 1951 College Basketball Scandals (1997), which was followed by The Cockroach Basketball League (1998), and finally Scandals of '51: How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball (1999). Rosen, who does not have a literary agent, is published exclusively by Seven Stories, and publisher Dan Simon describes Rosen as "one of the founding seven stories after whom this company was named."

In 1995, Jackson coauthored with Hugh Delehanty Sacred Dreams: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior (Hyperion), which takes an in-depth look at his life philosophies. A lot has been made of Jackson, the "Zen-meister" of the NBA, and it's not unusual to come across sentences in More Than a Game like "nothing is more important than the evolution of consciousness." Jackson, who identifies himself as a "Zen-Christian," also relates how at a crucial time in the 2000 playoffs he introduced the Lakers to the Noble Eightfold Path. PW asks Jackson which was easier to teach, the Triangle Offense or the Noble Eightfold Path? "Actually, I told them the reason why I adopted the Triangle Offense," says Jackson, laughing puckishly, "was because it was a logical basketball system that really involved all of your being. I have no hopes or even desire," he goes on straight-faced, "that they remember the Eightfold Path as much as I let them know it was about self-possession, self-control, about poise and being centered and focused."

PW is curious as to how More Than a Game was written, with Rosen stationed in the Catskill Mountains and Jackson spending half his time on airplanes. "The routine I have," says Rosen, "is that I write when I don't have to go to the gym or go shopping or take the dog to the vet. I write all the time, and that's all I want to do. I write as much as I can."

"I write either at nighttime," adds Jackson, "early in the morning, or on a laptop on an airplane." There was a hitch in the writing and editing because Rosen was of the Luddite School of Writing—"longhand and stapler," but no computer. "His wife said, you gotta do it [the computer]," laughs Jackson. "This is going to help you. So then we were sending stuff back and forth to each other, and I'd send him disks and he didn't know what to do with them. Finally, we collaborated and sat together and redid everything over the course of the summer."

Rosen is asked if he'd take a coaching job if offered? "It's very seductive," he says, "because of the money. You never say 'never,' but it would take something extremely unusual for me to coach." Rosen is currently working on a novel called Better Dead for Seven Stories. "It's basically about the history of the Communist Party in America," he says. "Nothing to do with basketball. It's a stretch for me, but I'm expanding my vision."

And together their vision is 20/20, as both Jackson and Rosen are still "seeing the ball" perfectly after all these years.