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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Reflections on the Passing of Tex Winter

Legendary basketball coach Tex Winter passed away yesterday at the age of 96. Winter played basketball at USC, where his Coach Sam Barry first developed what is now known as the Triangle Offense--but Winter refined and expanded that concept when he became a coach. Winter enjoyed an outstanding career as a collegiate head coach--most notably at Kansas State, a program that he twice led to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament--and he was inducted in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.

Winter's NBA coaching career began with a brief stint as Houston's head coach in the early 1970s but Elvin Hayes and company did not respond well to the Triangle. However, earlier in his career Winter had caught the eye of Jerry Krause, who vowed to hire Winter if he ever got the chance to do so.

That chance happened after Krause became the General Manager of the Chicago Bulls. Krause hired Winter to be an assistant coach under Doug Collins and the rest is history: Phil Jackson ascended to the head coaching position in 1989 and he promptly implemented the Triangle Offense under Winter's watchful eye. The Triangle Offense played a major role in Chicago's subsequent run of six championships during an eight year span in the 1990s and all of the key figures--including Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen--have said that they would not have won without Winter. Jackson brought Winter back to the bench when Jackson joined the L.A. Lakers and Winter was an assistant coach for four of the Lakers' next five championship teams (poor health forced Winter to retire prior to the Lakers winning the 2010 title).

Here is part of what I wrote about Winter after he was finally selected for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame :
"Every star that I've ever had on a team--except Scottie Pippen, basically--he had trouble with parts of their game," (Phil) Jackson said. Pippen embraced Winter's intricate Triangle and mastered all of its subtleties; when Michael Jordan took a hiatus from the NBA to play minor league baseball, many people wrongly assumed that Pippen would try to average 30 ppg and that the Bulls would be a mediocre team sans Jordan--but Pippen knew his strengths and limitations, so instead of trying to become a scoring champion he used his playmaking skills to enhance his teammates' performances, helping B.J. Armstrong and Horace Grant to each earn their first (and only) All-Star appearances as the Bulls surprised observers by going 55-27 and pushing the New York Knicks to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Winter's Triangle provided a structure and framework not so much for Jordan, Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal or Kobe Bryant but rather for their less talented teammates...
Roland Lazenby was the Boswell to Winter's Johnson and Lazenby provided much insight for the general public regarding Winter's thought process. In 2007, Lazenby wrote an article that contained Winter's comparison of Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan and I quoted from that article in a 20 Second Timeout article:
Roland Lazenby, the fine editor of Lindy's Pro Basketball--for which I have written several articles during the past two years--recently posted an interview with Triangle Offense guru Tex Winter on the subject of the similarities between Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. You can read the complete interview here. Winter concludes, "I tend to think how very much they're alike. They both display tremendous reaction, quickness and jumping ability. Both have a good shooting touch. Some people say Kobe is a better shooter, but Michael really developed as a shooter as he went along. I don't know if Kobe is a better shooter than Michael was at his best." He also dismisses the idea that Bryant took bad shots during his recent scoring binge: "We study the tapes. Actually, for the most part, he's not forcing up a lot of bad shots. When he gets hot, he does take shots that would be questionable for other players. But a lot of the shots he’s taken go in. He'll take shots that not many other players are going to be able to hit, and he hits them." These statements come from the person who invented the Triangle Offense and helped Phil Jackson implement it as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen led the Chicago Bulls to six titles; then, Jackson utilized the same Triangle Offense to win three more titles in L.A. with Shaq and Kobe--and Winter says that Jordan and Bryant are "very much alike." The one caveat that Winter offers is that Jordan held his ground on the post better, while Bryant sometimes allows himself to get pushed off of the block and toward the three point line on offense.
Winter later told Lazenby that he doubted that Jordan would have fit in well with Shaquille O'Neal, who of course won three championships with the Lakers while playing alongside Bryant. As noted above, Winter's analysis of Bryant's shot selection differed from the superficial and biased mainstream media portrayals of Bryant.

O'Neal often clashed with Winter--though O'Neal was among the many who praised Winter in the wake of the news of Winter's passing--but Bryant and Winter bonded from the start. During the 2005 NBA All-Star Weekend, Bryant told me, "I love Tex. If it weren't for Tex, I wouldn't look at the game or interpret the game the way that I do. The way that he teaches the game is different than any other coach that I've ever been around. He looks at the game in a different way. He actually teaches momentums--how to build momentums and how to break momentums. He looks at the total concept of the game and then plays it like chess. It's amazing to sit there and learn. When he teaches you something, you go out on the court and you apply that knowledge and it actually works. You start looking at him like he's Yoda. I'm telling you, it's just incredible."

After word of Winter's death was announced, Scottie Pippen tweeted, "Tex Winter was my biggest critic. He was also my biggest fan. A few words about the legendary coach who lived his 96 years as well as anyone could have..." Pippen later added, "Tex was tough on me early in my career. But he believed in me and gave me the confidence I needed to make the triangle work. He'd say, 'I'm not criticizing, I'm coaching'" and Pippen concluded, "Student of the game. Hall of Famer. 9 NBA championships as a coach. He taught me how to become a better offensive player. How to be patient on the floor. How to take criticism. How to win. Thank you, Tex. Rest In Peace."

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:38 PM



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