LOS ANGELES -- Tex Winter stood at the podium, a broad smile masking the damage a 2009 stroke had inflicted on his mind and body. Winter was there to accept, along with Dr. Jack Ramsay, the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, an acknowledgement with a name that is self-explanatory. Yet there is one honor that continues to elude the man credited as the innovator of the triangle offense: A spot in the Naismith Hall of Fame.
The case against Winter's election has always been odd, boiling down to the argument that Winter's greatest impact on the game came not as a player or head coach, but as an assistant, first with the Bulls and later with the Lakers. But even as Hall of Fame voters keep him out, Winter's peers continue to lobby for him to get in. Michael Jordan singled Winter out during his acceptance speech last year and former Bulls GM Jerry Krause resigned from the Hall of Fame committee because Winter's name wasn't on the ballot one year and has sworn never to attend another Hall ceremony until Winter is enshrined.
"I never cared about promoting dad for the Hall of Fame," his son, Chris Winter, told reporters. "I have relatives that do. One of the things that I found after he had his stroke was that when I went to his apartment and he had literally rooms and rooms of letters. I don't know if this is going to help his cause or not, but they all asked the same question, 'Why aren't you in the Hall of Fame?' So maybe I don't care, but there are a lot of people out there who do. It's a little embarrassing to have to go through that, to get the call from the Hall that you didn't get the votes again. I think the people have spoken. Whether the Hall of Fame listens, I don't know."
Indeed, Winter's résumé is Hall-worthy. He began his career at the collegiate level, first at Marquette before moving on to coach his alma mater, Kansas State. In 15-years at K-State, Winter led the Wildcats to eight league titles and two Final Four appearances.
It was in the NBA, however, that Winter's genius truly became appreciated. The sideline triangle offense was about as popular as baggy shorts in Winter's day but Winter force fed it to his team at Kansas State and turned the Wildcats into a prolific scoring team. In 1985, Winter was hired by Krause, an old buddy from his days at K-State, as an assistant coach. Four years later, a spry, old coach named Phil Jackson was elevated to the head coaching position and one of the league's longest -- and most successful -- relationships was born.
"Jerry Krause was just named general manager of the Chicago Bulls [and he] told me that his first hiring was Tex Winter," said Jackson. "I had met Tex one time at an airport years before. I knew his reputation because he was with the Houston Rockets when I was a player. In the summertime during our rookie and free agent years, I was with Tex, working with him during that time, and learned the system so to speak, and that really gave us a balance of what we wanted to get accomplished with our basketball team."
Operating as Jackson's right-hand man, Winter taught the triangle to Jordan and Scottie Pippen and later to Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. In each stop, Winter was successful, powering Chicago to six NBA championships and helping LA collect another four.
"His coaching record was impeccable," said Jackson. "Tex wasn't just any assistant coach, that's for sure. He was a guy that I designated moments of practice for him to take the team and skill the team in the drills that he knew well to help build the team into the kind of team that could react to the things that they still try to react to today."
At 88, Winter's coaching career is behind him. His imprint on the game is indelible, but his days on the sideline are probably over. Before the memory of his accomplishments fade, the Hall should rectify one of its most glaring errors.
They should let Tex in.