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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Who's Not On Tex's All-Winter Team For The NBA's 60th Anniversary

Lindy's Pro Basketball Annual (which I have edited for the past 14 years) hits the newstands this week, and once again it features the All-Winter team, selected by none other than Tex Winter himself.
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.


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.


Blogger EMC said...

I think "The Last Season" is a terrible book, but PJ did mention the story you tell about Shaq's disrespect of Tex Winter. Maybe he didn't give all the details, but it is in the book.

4:38 PM  
Blogger roland lazenby said...

You are correct, but my point is that the details explain just how bad the incident was. Imagine if Kobe Bryant had shown a similar disrespect.
Thanks for your comment.

Roland Lazenby

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Rich Kimble said...

I agree that new defensive rules would make it more difficult to guard Jordan if he were playing today - but we also have to remember that Jordan was given every possible benifit of the doubt when he played.

I think other standout players of Jordan's day were slowed much more than Jordan was by the physical defense employed back then. Jordan was given "superstar treatment" by the officials for most of his career.

6:43 PM  
Blogger roland lazenby said...

Great observations. I think Jordan got more calls later in his career, although there's no question that the superstar in the NBA gets the edge. It's always been that way, long before Jordan showed up on the scene.
Your comment about other players intimidated and out-muscled by the Pistons is right on. But Jordan got plenty of that, too.
In fact, once he bested the Pistons, he truly began to get "respect" from the officials.
Thanks for your comment.


8:12 PM  
Blogger john marzan said...

the "jordan rules" wasn't just about dumars' defense. Joe had a lot of help from thugs like mahorn, laimbeer, buddha edwards and rodman. it was the bodyslams and vicious takedowns jordan experienced while trying to drive inside the lane that probably made him cry, not dumars' defense.

i disagree with jerry west about isiah and joe. isiah's the heart and soul of the team and is a better offensive player AND PASSER than joe. And Isiah has lot's more charisma (look at that smile) than dumars. Joe's good at d though, and is steady as a rock.

11:09 PM  
Blogger roland lazenby said...

Great points all around. Joe Dumars, however, was the bedrock of the Pistons' scheme for dealing with Jordan. As for Joe's offense, he could always do more. No question Isiah was great and much flashier.
West, however, had his opinion, and I recorded it during a 1990 interview. AS the Hall of Fame recognized the other day, Dumars was a truly great guard who didn't always get the credit while he played. He was, however, named the Finals MVP in 1989, after Pat Riley ruined the Lakers backcourt with too strenuous a workout before the championship series. I'm sure you recall Byron Scott and Magic Johnson taken out of the series by hamstring injuries.
Thanks for commenting.

Roland Lazenby

2:57 AM  
Anonymous Kai Figgemeier said...

The last NBA season featured 40+ point games from so many shooting guards and small forwards - at least in my perception - that it does start to feel like a slightly different game. Proof to this can also be found in the world championship, where several US players and coaches hinted at being surprised by the physical nature of the game and having to adjust to how the games were being called. To me the question becomes at which point the NBA has such a fine-tuned set of rules that it really can't be judged by the same standards as NBA ball in previous decades and also in the rest of the world.

3:42 AM  
Blogger roland lazenby said...

Absolutely great observations.
You will perhaps enjoy reading the rest of the article as Rod Thorn, Rick Barry, Joe Dumars and Tex Winter offer their opinions on this issue.
As Thorn acknowledges, the NBA changed its officiating to open up scoring. Now, we have all these 40-point scorers, but as Tex points how, they have to shoot 15-20 free throws a game to reach those numbers.
As a result, many games, including playoff games, feature an extended parade of free throws.
The NBA hopes players will adjust to the calling of touch fouls. It will be interesting to see how they adjust. Tex says it's the officials who need to adjust.


4:42 AM  
Blogger john marzan said...

"I'm sure you recall Byron Scott and Magic Johnson taken out of the series by hamstring injuries."

yup. that's why the lakers were swept in that series.

i still can't believe a 6-3 guy like dumars could shut down jordan or drexler on his own.

5:00 AM  
Blogger roland lazenby said...

Of course team defense is the heart of the issue for great teams and certainly it was for those old Pistons. However, the key even to a great team defense is having an exceptional defender like Dumars who can work like hell against a Jordan all the while looking for and wanting all the help he can get.
Still, his great individual defense is the heart of what the Pistons were able to do.
I covered those Pistons teams and wrote their official championship stories. I spent many a night watching them work.
Thanks for your comment.


9:09 AM  
Anonymous Gatinho (Scott) said...

That Shaq story is one I always bring up when getting the party line from casual fans and Kobe "haters" when discussing the downfall of that Laker squad. Not surprisingly, they have no idea that it even happened.

I think the national media is as much to blame about the disseminating of the "uncoachable" story as Phil is.

To Phil's credit, unless I'm remebering incorrectly, he did say that not "protecting" Winter in that situation with Shaq was one of his biggest regrets during his first stint as coach.

10:48 AM  
Blogger dan the man >_< aka smushcalade said...


Cool artical, BIG UPS!

1:35 PM  
Blogger Taliq said...


How come when I google for Shaq slapping Kobe. Your article is the only one that comes up. And same with this Shaq telling winter to shut up, never heard about it anywhere else. As heavily publicised as the Shaq-Kobe wars are, why is it that Shaq's follies are never reported.

I know the media can be biased, but i mean there are so many sports righters in the world, it's truly amazing that they can all manage to sing the same biased tune. Also you'd think a unique angle would catch some networks eye, have you ever gotten an invite from the likes of espn or maybe even Jay Leno to tell this side of the story that's not being told anywhere else.

I guess basically I'm just wondering why you're the only one out there reporting this.

1:43 PM  
Blogger roland lazenby said...

Good questions. Phil himself discusses the incident in his book, The Second Season. And if you read the comments here, you'd see that he has said he regrets not defending Tex that day.

As for the slap, a great catch by you. When I broke this story back in 1999, Derek Fisher and Kobe, two of the four people there, confirmed the story.
However, in the past few months, Kobe told me it wasn't actually a slap, but a physical blow.

But those are good questions, and good questions help set the record straight. No one is eager to publicize these events, yet they are important in helping fans understand the Lakers.
Thank you for your comments.


3:39 PM  
Anonymous Sean Wilson said...

I wanted to comment on "The Death of Defense".

I think what's happened with NBA defenses is that the focus has shifted from individual defenders to team defense. It may be impossible now for a single defender to keep a quick player from driving, but with the new zone rules, it's easier than ever for teams to trap, pre-rotate and recover, and it's also possible now to use help defenders to cut off driving lanes without fully committing to double-teams. Put together, the old hand-checking rules and the new zone rules might have tipped the scales too far in favor of the defense: remember the Larry Brown Pistons holding team after team under 70 back in 2004.

IMO the new hand-checking guidelines bring balance back to the game. For all the talk about how easy it is to score now, scoring is still 13 ppg less than it was 20 years ago; against disciplined teams, it may not even be easier for individuals to score. Wade averaged 28 in this year's playoffs, and Dirk averaged 27, which seems right in line with the top playoff scorers from back in the day.

Not to bash Kobe, but he averaged 28 ppg against Phoenix in this year's playoffs, on 50% shooting. Is that even as good as Jordan did against the fabled "Bad Boys" in 1990? Either way, wouldn't you expect more, since defense has been outlawed?

7:26 PM  
Blogger Nate said...


I totally agree with Tex regarding the rule changes. I think it is was much more impressive to see a team like the Phoenix Suns of the early 90s or the Seattle Sonics of that same time score the way they did than it is to see the Phoenix Suns of today score that way, because the rule changes today have made it much easier to score. It's virtually impossible to guard guys like Wade or Nash without being able to lay a finger on them. True basketball fans don't find the current style of play that is being encouraged, entertaining...but the NBA is trying to grab the casual fan, and the current rules allow them to do just that. It's sad but true...

9:29 AM  

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