Posted Aug 12 2011 5:58AM
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- He shuffled slowly when walking. But kept climbing stairs.
He struggled to string the right words together to complete a sentence. But made a loud statement.
Tex Winter survived the stroke, outlasted the wait and managed the literal trip to the Hall of Fame better than his family expected, so nothing was going to stop him Thursday, not at the very place a lot of basketball people thought he had belonged for decades and not the day before induction. He was too close.
It was difficult to listen to him and impossible not to. Winter was a study in anguish and upliftment as he maneuvered the afternoon news conference at the Hall, unable to escape the cage of the medical crisis that has dominated his life for a little more than two years. But he refused to concede.
Even though a lot of thought was given to skipping the event to rest up for the actual enshrinement Friday night about a half-mile away at Symphony Hall, Winter walked down the aisle without support as he and the eight other living inductees, plus a son representing the late Globetrotter Reece (Goose) Tatum, were introduced one by one. And he managed a few stairs to join his new peers on stage. When the group scattered into smaller groups around the building to answer questions from the media, Winter was assigned a spot on the second floor and took the stairs without apparent difficulty.
His handshake was firm. He recognized the familiar faces of the Chicago media, friends from the days when Winter was a Phil Jackson assistant on the great Bulls teams of the 1990s. Forget someone suffering the lasting effects of a savaging hit. Tex looked good for anyone 89.
"He's been in this game 60 years and still is able to go up there, even with having a stroke, and at least try to express how much he really appreciates this," said Dennis Rodman, a fellow inductee and admirer since he played in Chicago. "A lot of people can't do that. A lot of people would stay home and absolutely just watch it on TV. I think this means more to him than anything in the world. It took him a long time to get here."
It's everything else that was gut wrenching.
Winter struggled to form sentences. When he accepted his turn to address family, friends and reporters in the larger setting, the words did not come out well, and Chris finally jumped in. Same thing later in front of the much smaller audience on the second floor.
Tex was asked about his emotions at finally being elected, after years of very public support from Jackson, former Bulls basketball boss Jerry Krause and others.
Winter's answer was a bit mangled, but his son came to his aid.
"I think what he's trying to say is, it's a shame that he's here when he can't express himself," Chris said. "He knows all you guys. He's cognizant. You're all his friends. He wishes he could communicate, and the thrill is somewhat tempered by that, I suppose. But here he is, better late than never."
Tex shot back: "He doesn't make any difference."
A playful jab at his son. That was another good moment.
The week in western Massachusetts belongs to all the honorees -- Teresa Edwards, Tara VanDerveer, Arvydas Sabonis, Tatum, Artis Gilmore, Tom (Satch) Sanders, Herb Magee, Chris Mullin, Rodman and Winter -- but it was hard to escape the sentiment that one basketball lifer best known for building the foundation of the triangle offense and winning nine championships with the Bulls and Lakers made the day his own. Tex would not be stopped.
Even when words turned into mangled sentences, he tried to press on. One thing about Winter, he'd walk Lake Michigan in August to talk hoops, and so it would be sitting behind a table on a Thursday after ascending a flight of stairs. He would talk hoops.
At one point, when Tex finished speaking, Chris, sitting just to the left, reached over with his right arm and patted his father on the back.
"You're doing good, dad," Chris said.
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