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Scott Howard-Cooper

Tex Winter
Tex Winter, with some Lakers cheerleaders, receives his championship ring in 2009.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Basketball world finally gives Tex Winter his just rewards


Posted Jul 21 2011 11:49AM

After all that Tex Winter has been through, all the pain and disappointment, there will be a blanketing warmth in western Massachusetts next month that should wash away years of letdowns and maybe, for an instant, the excruciating grip of physical limitations.

Winter has gone 89-plus years without a spot in the Hall of Fame that many argued he richly deserved. He won nine championships as Phil Jackson's assistant and watched as Jackson verbally lobbied and Jerry Krause staged a public protest on his behalf. He survived a health scare that took him away from the game.

But now that the moment is almost here -- Winter is set for induction into the Hall of Fame on Aug. 12 for a coaching career that began in 1947 and continued for 57 consecutive seasons -- watch what happens in Springfield, Mass.

Winter will be cheered at the ceremony in Symphony Hall, celebrated by peers from the NBA and from college, supported by family and close friends scheduled to travel from around the country. He will join Dennis Rodman, Chris Mullin, Artis Gilmore and six others in the Class of 2011. Yet Winter will stand alone.

A little more than two years since suffering a stroke while a consultant with the Lakers, Winter is "doing fine," said one of his three sons, Chris Winter. "He sleeps a lot, but he's pretty healthy at this point." Tex has moved out of the nursing home and is living with another son, Brian, in Manhattan, Kan. The man credited with being the modern-day architect of the triangle offense is able to put together only a few words at a time, though, so he will have someone else deliver the acceptance speech.

He may not be able to attend every activity with the other enshrinees. But he won't be overlooked again. He'll be embraced.

"I think it's a good thing," Chris Winter said. "I think part of the reason he's gotten in is the public has kind of spoken. I don't know who's on the committee or who was on the committee 30 years ago. But he has quite a career. I think the committee decided, 'We're backed into a corner here because he's so popular.'

"A lot of people think he should have gotten this 30 years ago. But he didn't. I think he kind of lost interest in this for a while. People kept pushing. They kept nominating him. They said to us at the Hall when they gave us the call (with new of the election), 'The cream sort of rises to the top.' I think he's happy about it."

Jackson, who annually used his very public pulpit to stump for Winter's election, rarely attends events like the Hall of Fame induction, but he's scheduled to be on stage to present Winter for enshrinement. Jackson was far from alone in pushing Winter's case. Krause, whose first move as head of basketball operations for the Bulls was to hire Winter as an assistant coach, was once so incensed at the failure to elect Winter that he quit one of the voting committees.

The basketball community will cheer Winter, recognizing his contributions to the game during the formal ceremonies in Springfield's Symphony hall. That will be nice.

But Winter likely will cherish the informal gatherings more, when he gets to be among colleagues talking hoops. That's Tex at the core.

In the late 1980s, in the days before regular charter flights, Winter often would sit with Sam Smith, the beat writer for the Chicago Tribune, as the Bulls pinballed around the country. Smith wanted to get a sound understanding of the triangle.

One day, Winter brought his book, "The Triple-Post Offense," published in 1968, and gave it to Smith. In flipping through pages, Smith noticed it was inscribed to Winter's mother. He didn't want the copy Tex had given to his mom -- surely that had too much sentimental value.

But Winter insisted, and a lesson was learned: Sentimentality is not a priority. Winter loved the chance to pass the time on the flights by going over offensive sets. If someone reading the book would be educated, great.

"The thing I always found with Tex, it was the game and the teaching that transcended everything," said Smith, who remains Winter's friend and now writes for Bulls.com. "Awards and even championships don't mean as much as the teaching of the game. I think obviously [being enshrined] would have meant more when he was in better health. But the real thing isn't that he's gotten older. It's just he's not a guy who dwells on ceremonies like this."

He will have to for at least one night. This is his moment, finally. No one will let him forget it.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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