Editor's Note: With former Kansas State basketball coach Tex Winter celebrating his 92nd birthday last week, K-State Sports Extra will highlight the legendary Hall of Fame coach with a two-part feature that started on Tuesday and concludes today.
March 6, 2014
By Mark Janssen
How widely respected is this K-State legend named Fred "Tex" Winter?
- Michael Jordan, arguably the most pristine player to ever lace up sneakers said: "Tex Winter was the most important coach I had because he probably criticized my game more than anybody. He was a driving force."
- Kobe Bryant, perhaps the greatest player in the 2000s, said: "Tex is a basketball purist. He wants the game to be played the right way all the time."
- And Phil Jackson, who has a record 11 NBA titles to his credit, said of his longtime assistant coach and consultant: "Tex is officially the God of Basketball."
That comes from Phil Jackson... winner of 1,155 NBA games: "Tex is officially the God of basketball."
Sam Barry was the inventor of the "Triangle Offense" when coaching at USC in the 1940s, but Winter certainly gets credit for refining the offense based on the principles of 15-foot floor spacing between players and always playing within a team concept using the strength of each talent.
No offense in any sport has withstood the test of time like the "Triangle" as it won eight Big Seven/Eight titles in the 1950s and 1960s at K-State, six rings with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s and four titles with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2000s. Yes, that's a span of six decades, which doesn't include the 1940s when his career started as a K-State assistant to Jack Gardner.
At K-State from 1954-68, Winter's teams won 261 games, which included the eight Big Seven/Eight titles, plus five Big Seven/Eight Holiday Tournament crowns. His teams went to six NCAA Tournaments, and he is the only individual associated with every trip K-State made to the Final Four - as an assistant in 1948 and 1951, and as head coach in 1959 and 1964.
His Wildcat teams finished in the top 20 nine times in his 15 seasons, which included the No. 1-ranked K-State team of 1958-59.
While coaching into his 80s, Jackson said of the now 92-year-old Winter, "Tex would say that the NBA lifestyle was too much for him and that the arenas were too loud, but then he would be the first one in the next morning watching game tape. He'd be sitting there saying that the coffee was killing him, but then all of a sudden he would be up front diagramming something from the past - maybe years ago - that would be a remedy to what was happening to us on the court.
"Especially in the playoffs, he seemed to always come up with an idea that would solve a problem and help us to a championship," Jackson said. "He was always collaborating with us."
In his last few years with Jackson and the Lakers, Winter's official title was "consultant." Winter, however, preferred the term "insultant."
Giving a soft chuckle, Jackson told K-State Sports Extra, "Tex was not a beholder to stars or to reputation. He was about playing basketball the right way. Many times he'd stand up, look at me and say, 'You're being out-coached by the guy on the other bench. You better get into it!'
"He wasn't opposed at all to saying, 'Get (Michael) Jordan off the floor - he's hurting the team. He's not running the offense,'" Jackson continued. "From time to time I'd have to just try to calm him down, but even at 85 years old his spirit never died when it came to his desire to seeing the game played the right way."
Jackson, a former NBA talent himself, said he had heard of Winter when he was coaching at Houston where his constant focus on proper fundamentals and team play was not always accepted by Rockets' star Elvin Hayes. Eventually, Hayes remained as a player, and Winter was dismissed as a coach with a two-year record of 51-78 from 1972-74.
An NBA scout at the time, Jerry Krause spent a great deal of time in Ahearn Field House watching Winter coach his Wildcat teams. When he became a general manager of the Chicago Bulls, Winter was one of his first hires as an assistant to Doug Collins.
When Collins was let go and Jackson was hired, Winter was retained, and so was Winter's "Triangle Offense."
Jackson laughs at one of his first conversations he had with Jordan about the offense Chicago was going to run.
"Michael looked at me and said, 'You mean you're going to run that equal opportunity offense?' And that is what it is because everyone touches the ball," said Jackson. "But I also told Michael that we would teach guys like Bill Cartwright and Horrace Grant how to get him the ball in the last five seconds of the 24-second clock. It all worked out pretty well."
While Jackson's days aside Winter were only at the NBA level, he said he was well aware of his storied career at K-State, and the tales that went with that stay, which included Winter's legendary lucky brown suit.
"I heard about that brown suit, but he didn't wear it with us," said Jackson. Laughing, he continued, "Tex wore a variety of suits, but most of those he got from some discount place in Salt Lake City. We always kidded him about being an NBA coach who shopped at a discount place."
And, there was the K-State story back in the 1950s when Tex introduced Garden City cattle feed yard owner Forrest Brookover as 'Trees Overbrook.' "
Former Wildcat Don Matuszak joked, "Tex would never forget a name. It may not be your name, but he'd never forget a name. (Laughing) Tex was responsible for players having numbers on their uniform because he couldn't remember names."
To that, Jackson added, "There are innumerable stories like that. Here, we always referred to him as our absent minded professor. He was very entertaining and loved by so many people. Tex was a person of such great values and had such a firm belief in doing things the right way and always stood his ground."