One of the most acclaimed basketball writers in the world, Charley Rosen has spent years around the game. He played it at an MVP-level for Hunter College from 1959-62. He played it in the Eastern League (a forerunner to the CBA). And he coached it with Phil Jackson.
Since then, Rosen has authored 15 well-received books, among them Barney Polan’s Game, Scandals of ’51 and Maverick (co-authored with Jackson), a ballplayer-turned-journalist.
With it being the 60th anniversary since the scandals of 1951, and with the retirement of his friend Jackson, I figured it was a great time to talk some hoops with a guy who not only once played against Wilt Chamberlain but still writes about the NBA today for FoxSports.com.
Yesterday, we ran Part One of this interview where Rosen gave the Thunder a recipe for success and dove into the betting scandals that nearly destroyed college basketball. Today Rosen talks about the dysfunction of the Lakers, Kobe-for-Grant Hill rumors back in the day and whether Jackson will ever coach again.
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Dime: Were you surprised at how the season ended for Phil and the Lakers?
Charley Rosen: Yes and no. Yes, the way they went down in four straight. No in that one of the reasons why teams don’t repeat – there are a lot of reasons – but one big reason is they get too cocky, and they think they can turn it on whenever they like. The Lakers had won back-to-back championships so a third, a three-peat, Phil’s teams have done it three times and they subconsciously felt the same thing: “Hey, we can turn it on.” They started off the season playing very well and then it was like “Oh yeah. We can cruise. We can turn it on whenever we want,” which is antithetical to everything that Phil believes as a coach and even when he was a player. You play hard all the time. Someone watching you play shouldn’t be able to tell if you’re ahead by 20, behind by 20 or if the score is tied. You just played hard. That’s the only way to develop endurance, a winning attitude. So after the All-Star break they turned it on again and went 17-1 and that kinda reconfirmed their belief that “Hey yeah, look. We turned it on again and won 17 out of 18. Yes, we can do this.” And then they stepped off the gas again.
So I think what happened is that there was a big disconnect between Phil and his team because they just didn’t buy into that playing balls-out all the time. Where that really shows is in the end game, when you can’t finish games. So the first two games against Dallas, they had a shot at winning those games, but they didn’t execute in the end game. So that didn’t surprise me.
Ron Artest losing another step laterally on defense even though he has quick hands, that didn’t surprise me. Kobe losing his edge and getting injured more and more, that didn’t surprise me. Pau Gasol, that surprised me. Nobody seems to know what was going on, but there was something preventing him from focusing, something that was sapping his energy. There is all the talk about his girlfriend, who knows? He denies it, who knows? They just didn’t seem to have it, but it was still a surprise. It was somewhat of a surprise.
Dime: Do you think it was sad the way he went out?
CR: Well, Phil is an incredible competitor. With all his Zen stuff, calm, underneath that there is a fire raging. He wants to win. I see that. I mean he really, really wants to win. That’s why he got along with Michael Jordan because Phil and Michael were the two most ferocious competitors in the Chicago organization. That’s why he stuck with Kobe.
At one point, there was an offer to trade Kobe – this was when Kobe was really young and doing crazy stuff and making everybody nuts – for Grant Hill. Grant Hill was still healthy and had his game. And a lot of people pushed for that trade, including me. But, Kobe also had this ferocious competitive attitude that Phil identified with. The problem was that Kobe did not know how to turn this attitude into winning a championship. That was a problem.
So going out the way he did, which was humiliating really, especially the way Game 4 ended…I think Odom’s banging on Nowitzki, that was no big deal at all. That was nothing. A personal foul. But Bynum hitting the little guy was really bad, was dangerous. There was nothing good about that, unforgiveable, and I think it was a sign of Bynum’s continuing immaturity. So yes, it was sad. I think it’s sad.
He wanted to quit last year, but the players convinced him. Fisher and Kobe said “Nah, come back one more time.” Yeah, I think it’s sad. But you win, you gotta lose also. You can’t win forever. You can’t win forever and it was time for him to go.