By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Apr 27 2009 5:29PM
LOS ANGELES -- If the Lakers' season ends in June with Phil Jackson winning his 10th ring as a head coach and Kobe Bryant his fourth as a player, the Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker of their sport will have to do it without the guidance of basketball's answer to Yoda on the sidelines.
Tex Winter suffered from a stroke and subsequent fall in the shower on Saturday morning in Manhattan, Kan. The 87-year-old Winter was there to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1958 Kansas State Wildcats team that he coached to the Final Four.
His condition has improved in the days since being hospitalized, but his speech and movement on the right side of his body are both still limited, according to Jackson. Winter's family told Jackson that the coach soon will be out of intensive care, spend several more days in the hospital and then continue his rehabilitation at a care unit that specializes in helping stroke victims.
Winter, who has spent the last six decades as a coach on both the college and pro levels, is a living legend. His triple-post offense, commonly known as the triangle, had as much of an impact as Michael Jordan did in 1996-97, when the Bulls posted the best single-season record (72-10) in NBA history. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame recognized Winter in 1998, awarding him the John Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor given by the Hall next to enshrinement.
Winter is no longer a full-fledged assistant coach with the Lakers, downgrading his status to consultant before last season because of illness and not wanting to become a distraction to the team. He still left his wife Nancy at their home in Portland, Ore., to spend two weeks out of every month with the team, though, and still brought with him his biting tongue.
"He calmly called himself the 'insultant' rather than consultant," Jackson said.
Jackson recalled the Lakers' run through the 2001 postseason, when the team started the Playoffs 11-0 and faced Philadelphia in Game 1 of The Finals.
"At one point during the game, [Winter] leaned over and said, 'You're being outcoached by [Larry] Brown,'" Jackson said. This was no time to be negative, considering that L.A. was riding a 19-game winning streak stretching back to the regular season. And Jackson didn't take it that way.
"I appreciated it because I knew that he meant to try to motivate," Jackson said. Winter was right about Game 1 -- the Sixers won it in overtime -- and Jackson and the Lakers made the proper adjustments to win the next four games and the championship.
Like the cartoon South Park, Winter is an equal-opportunity critic.
"He didn't care whether it was Shaq or Kobe or even Phil," Derek Fisher said. "He was going to say what he had to say. At this level, that's a refreshing thing to experience and be a part of."
Added Jackson: "Tex is one of those people who doesn't care who it is, what matters [to him] is how the game is being played and I think that's the one thing that we can always count on. He's going to talk about the principles of the game, as opposed to the personalities."
When Winter made his fortnight appointments in L.A. this season, he didn't spend time only with the Lakers. When Lakers practice was over, he would stick around the team's El Segundo, Calif., training facility for hours to work with members of the Los Angeles D-Fenders, the Lakers' NBA D-League affiliate.
With the D-League players, he took on a more nurturing role, making himself an open book for the aspiring NBA call-ups. He would sit courtside at the Staples Center at D-Fenders games, when they played before the Lakers, sending his barbs toward the officiating crew.
Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons, who became an assistant coach with the Bulls for the 1989-90 season -- Winter's fifth in Chicago and Jackson's first as head coach -- grins widely when he talks about his colleague. He says that Winter, "loves the game of basketball and will talk basketball until you're blue in the face." But he thinks the man who has defined his life with the game would have been just fine if James Naismith had never invented it.
"He was trained as a pilot," Cleamons said. "Tex would be able to do whatever he wanted to do. He remodeled houses, he's done just about anything a person would want to do because that's the type of person he is."
Steve Kerr and John Paxson were Winter's favorite players, according to Jackson, because they appreciated the subtleties of the triangle. "One of my favorite stories is Tex turning to Phil after Michael [Jordan] took several shots in a row and Tex turns to him and goes, 'Ah, Phil, get him out of there! Get Kerr in there for him,'" Kerr recalled in a phone interview with NBA.com. "I thought that was the greatest thing ever. I was lucky to be in the league and here's Tex, the offense isn't being run correctly, so he wants Phil to take the greatest player ever out of the game and put me in.
"But that's Tex. It didn't matter who was involved, he wanted things executed correctly. He believed there was a right way and a wrong way and it didn't matter who you were."
Bryant, who dubbed himself a "basketball aficionado" after a recent game in the Playoffs, got the same gleam in his eye that Cleamons did when asked about Winter. In Winter, Bryant found someone who totally immerses himself in the coaching; the history; the theory; the respect for how the game should be played.
"He's a basketball purist and he wants the game to be played the right way all the time," Bryant said. "When he first got here, him and I used to do individual film sessions pretty much every day and just watch the whole game from start to finish and he would just share so much knowledge with me."
Cleamons says the team was saddened by the news but is hopeful that Winter will pull through. "He's been a wonderful mentor for me and I enjoy whenever he's around," Cleamons said. "He's just an icon. That's all I can say."
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