The Men who Led the Lakers
Paul Westhead (1979-82)
We continue our ongoing series on the head coaches that have led the Lakers throughout the team's tenure in Los Angeles with a look at the three-year stint by Paul Westhead, who took over for Jack McKinney early in the 1979-80 season after McKinney's biking accident:
PAUL WESTHEAD (1979-82)
The first year of Westhead’s NBA coaching career is among the more remarkable in memory, as the man with no previous experience at that level was thrust into the head coaching chair after Jack McKinney tragically crashed his son’s bicycle 14 games into the 1979-80 season.
But behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, Westhead would lead a hungry Lakers team all the way to the title, when they beat Philadelphia 4-2 in the NBA Finals. Kareem posted averages of 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in the regular season, while Magic’s rookie year featured 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. Both played even better in the postseason, Kareem scoring 31.9 points and Magic averaging almost a triple-double. To cap it all, Magic started the decisive Game 6 at center for the injured Abdul-Jabbar (ankle), scoring 42 points with 15 boards and seven assists in a 123-107 win to become the only rookie to ever win Finals MVP honors.
Westhead led L.A. to 54 more wins during the next season, but his team ended up losing to Moses Malone and the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs (2-1). Then just 12 games into the 1982-83 season, Westhead fell out of favor with management and was fired in favor of his assistant, Pat Riley, who – as Westhead had done in his first season – was suddenly behind the bench for a title-winning Lakers team.
Westhead would go on to coach his run-and-gun style in the pros at Chicago and Denver and later as an assitant at Orlando and Seattle/Oklahoma City, at college for Loyola Marymount and George Mason, in the WNBA for the Phoenix Mercury and presently at Oregon for the women's team.
LAKERS COACHING RECORD:
Regular Season: 112-50 (.691)
Playoffs: 13-6 (.684)
Total: 125-56 (.691)