Monday, August 08, 2005
Tex Winter's second run at retirement is fast unraveling.
Winter, who began one of basketball's amazing coaching careers when Harry Truman was president, returned to Oregon with his wife, Nancy, in 2004 after his retirement from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nearly 20 years earlier, Winter had hung up his whistle after two years as an assistant to Dale Brown at Louisiana State. Winter was Oregon-bound.
Then a man named Jerry Krause talked him into a job with the Chicago Bulls.
"He kept saying, you promised, you promised," Winter, 81, said from his home in West Salem.
Winter had befriended Krause in the 1950s and '60s, when Winter was head coach at Kansas State. He and Krause, then a young scout for the Bullets, watched 16 mm game films and shared basketball philosophies.
"He kept saying he would be a general manager one day and that he wanted me to come help him build a team," Winter said.
Krause was true to his word. In 1985, Winter joined the Bulls, where Krause was general manager, and began a partnership with Phil Jackson that produced nine NBA championships in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Winter brought an elegant team offense to the egocentric NBA and sold it to the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
And with Jackson having rejoined the Lakers on June 14, Winter appears headed back to L.A. Jackson has asked Winter, the architect of the triangle offense, to work with the Lakers coaching staff.
"Phil wants me to come back again," Winter said. "I can't do it full time, but I may work the camp and five days a month. That is what we are talking about. I'll be involved with the Lakers again."
Winter first came to Oregon in 1943, leaving Compton Junior College with a track scholarship to Oregon State in hand. He was a talented pole vaulter -- he won the Pacific Coast Conference title in that event and once vaulted 14 feet 4 inches with a bamboo pole, a better height than the one that Guinn Smith reached in winning the gold medal at the 1948 London Olympics.
Winter also was a reserve guard on Hall of Fame coach Slats Gill's basketball team, and although he considered competing for a spot on the Olympic team, a pulled muscle led him to turn to coaching instead. And basketball was the better for it.
Winter met his wife, a LaGrande native, at Oregon State, before quitting school to join the Navy. He trained to fly fighter planes off carriers, but the war ended and he didn't see combat. But Winter did get to play a lot of Armed Forces basketball and was spotted by USC coach Sam Barry.
After the war, Winter transferred to USC and began a career marked by Hall of Famers.
At USC, he played with Bill Sharman and Alex Hannum. Sharman later made the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player for the Celtics and a coach. Hannum, a tough post player, won two NBA championships as a coach with St. Louis and Philadelphia and made the Hall from the bench.
Winter hadn't played much during his time in Corvallis. He sat behind two outstanding guards, Lou Beck and Don Durdan. "I thought I could beat anyone out, but I didn't beat those guys out," he said. "It was a humbling thing, but it was good for me."
But he studied Gill's game tactics from the bench. In those years, the conference schedule pitted teams in back-to-back games. Gill's team would win Friday night with the fast break and then beat the same opponent Saturday with a controlled half-court offense.
At USC, Barry, another Hall of Fame coach, scouted for the football team, and coached the Trojans baseball team to the 1948 NCAA championship.
"He was one of those coaches who was way ahead of his time as far as structured offense (goes)," Winter said.
Barry believed in a controlled tempo, and ran a passing offense dubbed "center opposite" that he developed at Iowa in the 1920s. It became the basis for the triangle offense Winter made famous, first at Kansas State and later in the NBA.
"It is the offense," Winter said of Barry's sets. "There really isn't much new in basketball and the old ideas can work. Young coaches could prosper by reading the books of the old-time coaches."
The triangle is a team-first offense that is based on spacing the court and moving the ball and players' feet with purpose. Winter started with Barry's concepts and fashioned them into modern efficiency. Although the ancient triangle is team-oriented, it has the flexibility to isolate great players, such as Jordan or Bryant, and let them work.
"The modern game has lost the team concept," Winter said. "It is still a team game and you won't win big without playing that way."
Winter has a rare basketball karma; His career has put him in touch with so many great coaches and players.
His first coaching job was to assist Jack Gardner at Kansas State. Gardner, too, had played for Barry and ran the same offense. He wanted a Barry disciple, so Winter helped coach two of Gardner's Final Four teams before taking his first head-coaching job at Marquette.
When Gardner left for Utah in 1953, Kansas State hired Winter to replace the Hall of Fame coach. Winter made the most of it, winning eight conference titles and making the Final Four twice in 15 years. His 1958 team lost in the semifinals to Elgin Baylor and Seattle University. His 1959 team was ranked No. 1 in the country.
"I had teams there that ran triangle better than any pro team ever did," he said.
Winter's 1958 team beat Kansas in Lawrence for the conference championship. They ran the triangle at Wilt Chamberlain, who soon left Lawrence to join the Globetrotters.
"I always said I was the one who ran Wilt out of the league," Winter said.
Earlier, Winter's team beat Kansas in Phog Allen's last game. Of course, Allen is a Hall of Famer, too; he played for James Naismith, the game's inventor, at Kansas.
We are not talking old school here, we are talking original school -- that is how deep Winter's basketball roots reach.
A year after Winter joined the Bulls, Jackson was hired as an assistant to Doug Collins. The former Knick was intrigued by Winter's offense. Jackson had played with the great Knicks championship teams,which delivered lessons in team basketball.
Jackson went to the L.A. summer league as Winter's assistant and soaked up the nuances of the triangle.
"That summer league is where Phil indoctrinated himself into the offense," Winter said. "It gave him something to hang his hat on."
Jordan balked at the offense, Winter said . As Bryant would later tell Winter, the triangle can bore an extraordinary athlete.
"Michael was resistant at first but he had played at North Carolina for Dean Smith and understood the team concept," Winter said. "He committed to it and it made all the difference in the world.
"If you can't get your superstars to commit to you, as a coach you are in trouble in this league."
Winter never shrinks from speaking candidly and struggles sometimes as an assistant.
"It is hard for me," he said. "I was a head coach so long and it is hard for me to sit back and let a lot of things happen. Not many head couches could tolerate me. I think the game should be played a certain way and I don't hold back from expressing myself."
He said Jordan welcomed coaching, but other superstars turn a deaf ear. Of all the stars, Winter said O'Neal was the least receptive.
"He doesn't want to hear it," Winter said of O'Neal. "He is not the least bit interested but he could be so much better."
Winter said Pippen was the fastest learner he ever coac
"He just has a natural grasp of the game."
And if he were to list his favorite players, Steve Kerr would top a list that includes Craig Hodges and John Paxson.
Winter spent last season watching three NBA games a night at his home in West Salem. He loved watching the Suns run the break. He said Manu Ginobili is the league's most exciting player and that Dwyane Wade is the best all-around guard.
"He reminds me a lot of Jordan," he said.
Winter's frame of reference is shaped by decades and decades in the game. With 59 years in the business, Winter has coached 10 years longer than even the legendary Allen. He has played for and coached Hall of Famers and will again next season.
And if Tex Winter isn't installed with them in the Hall of Fame one day soon, they should pack up the peach baskets in Springfield.
"The modern game has lost the team concept." boy has he got that right. To much emphasis on the stars and the pick and roll I think. I've been watching the Spurs playoffs games and I really marvell at the way the Spurs moved the ball and used motion to get open looks and find lanes to the basket. They reminded me of the 80's Lakers. They also changed up their offensive attacks and they also use their defense to spark thier offense, barring injuries and big heads this team has the potential to get really really good.
I like what Tex has to say about Manu and Wade, two players that I find very exciting and entertaining. I can't understand how any game with those two guys on the floor can be boring.
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