Lakers learned plenty from Tex Winter
Only moments prior to the Lakers' 2001 championship parade, Tex Winter approached Kobe Bryant and a number of his teammates.
He made no small talk about the upcoming festivities, gave zero praise for individual performances and offered no congratulations for securing a back-to-back title. Instead he fixated on something so minutely detailed, it left plenty of the Lakers wondering why Winter would bring this up just as they were about to celebrate securing a title.
"We're all sitting around and he's talking about us not making fundamentally correct chess passes," Bryant recalled, drawing a few laughs from reporters. "He was serious. We all started laughing. He couldn't understand why we were laughing. That's just Tex."
Bryant shared that anecdote out of admiration for Winter's tendency "not going to sugarcoat anything," as Bryant put it, neither showing a hesitancy to criticize a player's performance or even Phil Jackson. Everyone ranging from Jackson, Bryant and to assistant coach Jim Cleamons argued Winter's induction this year to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame was long overdue mainly because his role in teaching the triangle offense proved instrumental in all of their development. And Winter did so with his unrestrained honesty.
Jackson had been said Winter's triangle passed down from Sam Berry somewhat emulated the offense during his playing days with the New York Knicks, but it wasn't until Jackson arrived in Chicago as the team's head coach in 1989. It was then that Winter taught him in more detail the intricacies of the triangle offense and how to coach it. In turn, Jackson convinced an initially reluctant team, led by Michael Jordan, to embrace an offense predicated to players reacting to situations and allowing their ball movement to expose defensive weaknesses. After Winter was an assistant on Jackson's staff for all six title runs with Chicago and the Lakers' three-peat from 1999-2002, Winter, 89, then became a part-time consultant with the Lakers after Jackson was fired following the 2003-04 season. He then stepped back from his duties after suffering a stroke in April 2009. Still to this day, Jackson uses the set drills Winter helped him install, a huge reason why he's won 11 championships.
"We had a relationship that went very deep, Tex and I simply because I wasn't a very good coach," Jackson conceded during his early years with Chicago. "I didn't have a lot of knowledge and he had a lot of knowledge."
With Winter's willingness to share his expertise also came his willingness to share his unfiltered feedback. Jackson lumped his mother and Winter as the only two people who consistently directly criticize him. Jackson also couldn't think of any superstar player other than Scottie Pippen that frustrated Winter for deviating from the triangle.
"He was the mind of the basketball gods," Jackson said. "If you played against the rules of the game, he's going to comment to you or comment to me in hopes I would comment to the players later on. He got frustrated with players at times. Michael Jordan was said he couldn't pass the ball right; Shaq who didn't take coaching very easily or Kobe who overpenetrated or handled the ball too long so the offense didn't run right."
"I've been next to him on the bench and he's telling Phil, 'You're coaching like ...," Bryant said, laughing. "He'll tell me, 'You're playing like ...He doesn't pull any punches whatsoever."
That's why it shouldn't be surprising Winter would've berated the Lakers following their 95-90 loss Sunday to the Denver Nuggets, a game that lacked any cohesive ball movement whatsoever. Whether it would've been a poorly performed game in Denver or even following a Lakers championship, Winter simply wanted the game to be played the right way.
"I miss his presence because he epitomizes what a teacher and a coach should be," Cleamons said. "He's honest. When he talks to you about his game, oftentimes he'll say he's not criticizing the player, he's talking about the act."
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Photo: The Lakers' Tex Winter in 2001. Credit: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times