Who's Not On Tex's All-Winter Team For The NBA's 60th Anniversary
This year's edition has a special feature in that it also includes an NBA 60th anniversary team. The 60 years of the NBA almost perfectly coincides with Tex's own coaching career, in college and the pros. So I talked him into selecting the All-Time All-Winter team. It's not made up of the "game's greatest players."
Instead I encouraged him to select the great players that he would like to coach.
It's worth noting that Winter left former Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal off his list. Winter said he did so because O'Neal was not someone he would care to coach.
Many Lakers fans are aware that the 84-year-old Winter has long coached superstars and high-salaried NBA players without coddling them. A younger assistant coach, with less stature, might have never considered fussing at Michael Jordan about throwing correct chest passes, but Winter has always been rather fearless in his coaching.
Unfortunately, he and O'Neal never got off to a good start in Los Angeles, where Winter played a major role in organizing coach Phil Jackson and the triangle offense the Lakers used to win three straight championships.
Winter tried to correct O'Neal on certain facets of the game, but the supersensitive center always seemed to recoil from those efforts.
The serious breech between the assistant coach and Shaq didn't come until the 2004 season when O'Neal out of nowhere told Winter to "shut the f*** up" during a team film session.
A stunned Winter said that never in lengthy coaching career had a player been so extremely disrespectful. In fact, Winter has long been known for earning the respect and allegiance of an array of players, from the most difficult (Dennis Rodman) to the most hard-headed (Kobe Bryant).
O'Neal's behavior in the 2004 incident is noteworthy for several reasons. First, O'Neal always describes himself as someone who respects his elders. That's pretty much a self-promoting crock.
Second, Phil Jackson wrote a supposed "inside" book on the season, which was really a document aimed at cementing Jackson's political position with the team. Strange that Jackson devoted so much ink to his allegation that Kobe Bryant was "uncoachable," yet somehow he managed to avoid telling his readers the details of the major incident involving O'Neal. Yes, Jackson discussed the incident in "The Last Season," but you have to wonder about his emphasizing far and wide that Bryant was "uncoachable" while giving Shaq a veritable free pass on the issue.
Winter said Jackson did visit with his center about apologizing for his shocking behavior. And the next day at practice, O'Neal dutifully gave Winter a half-hearted hug and apology.
It's a shame Jackson didn't attempt to present a fair and balanced picture of the team when he wrote his book.
Winter has enjoyed affiliations with some of the game's greatest stars. Others, he has admired from afar. His choices created some interest in a recent post when I pointed out that Tex had included Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade.
Winter said Wade was selected because of his amazing efficiency as a scorer.
"I love Dwyane Wade," Winter told me. "All-around, he's probably the best guard in the league. Individually, he's not as good as Kobe, as far as quickness and skills, etc. But I've never seen a player score the way he does, with such efficiency."
Winter went on to point out that players such as Wade and Bryant have a distinct advantage under the NBA's new rules interpretations that have officials whistling touch fouls on the perimeter.
Winter's criticism prompted me to write another article for LIndy's called "The Death of Defense?"
Here's the intro to that story, which involves a discussion of the new way officials are now calling the game.
THE DEATH OF DEFENSE
It remains one of the enduring images of NBA lore—Joe Dumars guarding a determined young Michael Jordan in the 1990 Eastern Conference playoffs.
Dumars of the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons, the league’s two-time defending champs, looked like a gaucho corralling the ultimate toro, his feet moving furiously (maybe the best defensive slide in the history of the game), one forearm firmly barred into Jordan to keep contact, the other bent arm thrust into the air, giving Dumars his only hope of keeping his balance while trying to ride the Jordan whirlwind.
Jerry West watched the performance and remarked privately that most people considered Isiah Thomas the Pistons’ superstar, but West pointed out that it was Dumars who was the supreme talent.
Well, West said, both Thomas and Dumars could push the envelope offensively, “but Joe’s defense sets him apart.”
Just how good was that defense?
It left a supremely disappointed Jordan sobbing at the back of the team bus when the series was over (it’s also probably the only NBA defense ever to spawn a best-selling book: Sam Smith’s ‘The Jordan Rules’).
Indeed, it was a formative moment in pro basketball history because it brought Jordan the ultimate challenge and propelled him toward a greatness that fascinated a global audience. Whether they liked pro basketball or not, people felt compelled to watch “His Airness” grow up against the Pistons’ physical challenge.
“I think that ‘Jordan Rules’ defense, as much as anything else, played a part in the making of Michael Jordan,” said Tex Winter, who was an assistant coach for that Chicago team. The 1990 loss forced Jordan and the Bulls to find an answer to Detroit’s muscle.
“Those Jordan Rules were murder,” Winter explained. “The fact that we could win the next year even though they were playing that defense says everything about Jordan as a competitor. Any lesser player would have folded his tent.”
Jordan had to dig deeper to respond to the Pistons, and his effort pushed his Bulls to six championships over the next eight seasons.
The unfortunate footnote to this legacy is that under an interpretation of the rules adopted by the NBA last season, if Dumars were playing today he would not be allowed to guard Jordan so physically, or perhaps even guard him at all.
Today Dumars is the chief basketball executive of the team he once led as a player. He’s an honest man, which means he chooses his words carefully.
Asked in July if he could defend Jordan under today’s interpretation of the rules, Dumars first laughed, then offered a long pause before replying, “It would have been virtually impossible to defend Michael Jordan based on the way the game’s being called right now.”
If you're so inclined, pick up a copy of Lindy's and join the debate over the NBA's decision to change its foul rules interpretations. That decision made a dramatic impact on the game and perhaps even decided the league championship last June.
"I think it hurts the game," Winter said of the changes. "It's pretty hard to guard someone on the outside — especially a player with a lot of quickness — if you can't even touch them."
Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, an oral history of the Los Angeles Lakers published by McGraw-Hill.