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Bulls in bloom: It stems from a flower child

It was New York in the 1970s. Phil Jackson was still a counterculture rebel with a cause, bringing up the end of the Knicks' bench and hanging on every word the Grateful Dead uttered. He smoked marijuana as a player and wrote about it in the book Maverick. His experience with LSD, a few days after New York had won the NBA title in 1973, he wrote, was "at least as dramatic as the Knicks winning the championship" and "one of the peak experiences of my life."

Looking back now, as coach of the Chicago Bulls today in Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Great Western Forum, Jackson understands the importance of change, if only in moderation.

His look has changed. Twenty years later, he wears a neatly trimmed mustache instead of the full beard. He prefers designer glasses and suspenders and dark suits that hide his coat-hanger shoulders.

The man who once resided for five years in Woodstock, N.Y., a town that shared his values, has a wife and five children and peace of mind and now lives comfortably in the Chicago suburbs.

"Maturation. Family. That changes you," Jackson said during one of several insightful press briefings during the championship series.

But Jackson hasn't changed much beyond the normal changes that come with being 45.

His main personality holdover from the 1970s? "Open-mindedness."

Jackson still is different from most NBA coaches. He calls basketball games "the great exercise in competitive war games." He won't spend much time relating his championship experience with the Bulls, all of whom are making their first trip, because the experience itself is the best teacher.

"Moderation of lifestyle is the key to this game," Jackson said. "You saw it with Detroit. They rode high, then suffered lows because they rode too high."

Instead of having the Bulls fly from Portland to Seattle last November, he chose bus travel so the players could get a "feel" for the Pacific Northwest. The team also rode from San Antonio to Houston, as Jackson told them this was another part of the country they should see.

Before the first Western Conference road trip this season, a seven-game tour of six states, Jackson handed out books designed to match each player's personality.

Bill Cartwright got Bonfire of the Vanities. John Paxson read Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Craig Hodges received The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

The son of two Pentecostal ministers, Jackson attended the University of North Dakota and had a combination major in philosophy, psychology and religion. He played basketball for current New Jersey Nets coach Bill Fitch.

After college, Jackson spent 13 years in the NBA, 11 with the Knicks. He missed the Knicks' 1970 championship season but played on New York's 1973 championship team. Known as a role player, Jackson averaged 6.7 points in his career.

He coached the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association for five seasons (1982-87) and posted a 134-106 record. He brought the Patroons their first championship in 1984 and was named 1985 CBA Coach of the Year.

As an NBA coach, Jackson is just as impressive. In his first season in charge of the Bulls, they went 55-27, the best record for a rookie coach in franchise history. In his second year, they won a franchise-record 61 games and swept Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals.

The media has latched onto Jackson in the playoffs, delving into the life of the one-time flower child turned basketball coach who doesn't see the essence of life as being 94 feet long.

"You can't take a person apart that easily," Jackson said. "It's the Gestalt theory. The sum of the parts of a person are less than the whole."

And with that, Jackson went back to talking about basketball.

GAME 4

7 p.m. today on Ch. 8 and WFNS-910.

The Chicago Bulls are in their prime with coach Phil Jackson, who has changed since his counterculture days.

GAME 4 PROGNOSIS

The outlook: The Los Angeles Lakers now know they cannot talk themselves into a win in the NBA Finals. They're going to have to earn it.

There was a lot of posturing and mouthing going on after the Chicago Bulls' victory in Game 2. The Lakers were unhappy because they thought Michael Jordan was trying to embarrass them with emotional fist-pumping theatrics after he knocked down a couple of shots that belong on a highlight reel.

Well, the Lakers talked a good game. But they didn't play one in Game 3. The Bulls took their second consecutive win in the series with hustle and hard work, and Chicago's bench outscored the Lakers' reserves 18-6.

The Bulls are outworking the Lakers, plain and simple. How else to explain a scandalous 46-29 rebounding advantage in Game 3?

The combination of the Chicago bench and the Bulls' rebounding strength is the difference in the series.

On one hand, the Lakers entered the NBA Finals as the more experienced ballclub. On the other hand, the older Lakers looked tired down the stretch Friday night.

"At some point in the fourth quarter, we felt we had the edge in conditioning. We felt they were tired," Chicago coach Phil Jackson said.

"I think we're a much younger team," Chicago forward Scottie Pippen said. "We have younger legs."

_ JOHN HARRIS

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