Tex Winter Rumors
Like most of the professional and college coaches I spoke with, Carril abhors the current strategic trends in the N.B.A., which he thinks shun passing combinations in reducing the game to pick-and-rolls and 3-pointers. “I don’t see the mystery of the triangle offense, except it goes against the grain of the way the game is played today,” Carril said.
When Bryant is told that the triangle prospered only because he was involved, he objects. “You’re supposed to win with a bunch of bums?” he said. “It baffles me to hear people talk about how this is a team sport and then say the triangle was only successful because Phil had great players. We were successful because we played in such a beautiful system. We had great coaches. It’s all in conjunction.” Jackson said: “You have a player like Michael Jordan, you’re going to have the opportunity to win championships. But to be able to do it consecutive times, three championships, and three more, that says a lot about what a team created.” So, I asked him, how does it feel when people say he won only because he had Jordan, Pippen, O’Neal and Bryant? He brightened. “Feels great!” he said. “I’m so glad I had those players. Made all the difference.”
To find a coach who does adapt his strategy year after year, I headed (by telephone) to the Research Triangle, to consult Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. “I never try to put my players in a system,” he said, not long before his adjustments enabled the Blue Devils to win the national championship. “I try to create a system that’s good for my players.” Had he thought of trying the triangle? The idea seemed to startle him. It was so successful, I ventured. “The triangle didn’t win crap!” he said sternly. “Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant! Whatever offense I run, that offense didn’t do it. Winning means you had the caliber of players capable of winning a championship.” Then he seemed to want to soothe the situation. “I have nothing against the triangle,” he said. “I think it’s a great offense. But it’s a lot better if Jordan loves it or Kobe loves it.”
Steve Kerr, who excelled in the triangle as a player with the Bulls and now coaches the Golden State Warriors, said it was difficult to find players who could execute nuanced passing and movement. “Today’s game is so ball dominant,” he said. “Players grow up with the pick-and-roll, so they don’t naturally play without the ball. “So many one-and-done guys are incredibly gifted,” Kerr continued, referring to players who jump to the N.B.A. after a year in college, “but they’re not seasoned fundamentally. In Triangle, they’d be completely lost.”
Cleamons was close with former Bulls and Lakers assistant Tex Winter, who brought the Triangle offense into Jackson’s coaching life. “I know the offense, but I don’t know what his plans are,’’ Cleamons said of Jackson trying to hire a coach who runs the Triangle. “I’m worried about the Milwaukee Bucks. You have to ask Phil that question.’’
These developments were mostly curious to me until my dear friend (and Lakers assistant coach/triangle offense guru) Tex Winter began privately expressing concerns about Jimbo’s influence on the franchise several years ago. Tex is the most honest, unfettered soul I’ve met in 30 years of stalking the hallways of basketball. He has had no real agenda other than winning games and Tex considered Jim Buss a major loose cannon, particularly in his dealings with young center Andrew Bynum. Jim’s approach created a strange atmosphere around the team, according to Tex, who had spent more than six decades coaching hoops. He had been the steadying force for the Bulls franchise when it was being ripped apart by a war between Jackson and Jerry Krause.
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Clarence Gaines recalls Pippen and Jordan talking in the days after they were teammates with Clyde Drexler on Team USA in 1992. “Pip said this to MJ on the team bus after they had been on the Dream team,” Gaines recalled. “If Clyde Drexler had Tex Winter as a coach, he could be on the level of Michael Jordan. Bottom line, Clyde was not a fundamentally sound player.”
When Bulls executive Jerry Krause brought Tex on board as an assistant and a consultant, he would be awed by the immense athleticism, quickness and strength of a young Michael Jordan, so much so that Tex confessed to being intimidated by the athletic force he encountered and even reluctant to approach him.
His appreciation for the assembled talent left Tex holding the highest regard for the owners who stretched far beyond the mean, Jerry Reinsdorf in Chicago and Jerry Buss in Los Angeles, to acquire tremendous talent for Jackson’s coaching staff to work with. Likewise, he was quite mindful that those same owners shelled out substantial dollars to make him the highest paid assistant in the NBA, an extraordinary commitment in itself. “They’ve paid me a fabulous salary,” Tex told me more than once.
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Winter has had to learn how to walk and talk all over again. But the stroke hampers his train of thought and limits him to just a few words before his mind wanders and he becomes incoherent. “I’m sorry,” Winter would say during his interview when he’d start a sentence, then lose his train of thought.
But as entertaining as Rodman was closing the show as the 10th honoree, Winter was simply heroic. Just being there was an awesome feat for Winter. “I’m just happy to be alive,” the 89-year-old former coach said in an interview Thursday. Two years ago, he suffered a stroke.
As soon as Krause was hired as general manager in 1985, he hired Winter as an assistant coach. He wanted him to work with his big men, because he knew that Jordan would make it impossible for them to ever draft high enough to get the good ones. Someday, too, Krause thought the triangle could be transcendent in the NBA. He hired Jackson out of the Continental Basketball Association as an assistant to Doug Collins, when Jackson feared he could be driving team vans back and forth to Maine forever. “No one wanted to hire him,” Krause said. “He would’ve gone home and been a lawyer in North Dakota.”
Finally, Winter, the architect of the triangle offense, goes into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this week as a contributor to the game. He’s 89 years old, failing and unable to give his own acceptance speech on Friday night. Nevertheless, Winter did express to Krause one wish for enshrinement weekend. Winter wants the two men to whom he’s most indebted – Krause and Phil Jackson – to rise above years of acrimony and simply shake hands. It’s been a long time, too long, and Krause will grudgingly do it for a simple reason. “For Tex, I would jump off a building,” Krause told Yahoo! Sports. “I’ve seen Phil walking down the opposite side of the hallway, and I’ve kept right on going past him. I’ve never stopped. But for Tex, yeah … I’ll do it.”
“He’s intermittently excited about going,” Chris said. “He knows he’s going to see some of his friends. … He’s gotten pretty old and he’s reached a certain point in his rehab and it hasn’t seemed to have progressed very far. Sometimes it takes years and years, and he doesn’t have years and years.”