It was early June 2000 and I was following the Los Angeles Laker-Indiana Pacer series leading up to the NBA championship game. LA needed one more win in a best of seven format to be crowned NBA champs- and- the showdown was set for game six in Los Angeles on June 19th.
Keating-Winter 2000 NBA finals(Daniel & Tex photo by L. Weigel)
Tex Winter told me to contact him if I wanted to attend a playoff game. I called and he said there would be two tickets available. I invited Pat Keating who owns the company I work for- but he suggested I take his son Daniel, age 14 as his substitute -since Pat was already scheduled to be out of the country.
Daniel and I arrived the day before the game at the LA airport and Tex was there to greet us. He put us up in a hotel nearby and said he’d be by later to give us a tour of the Laker practice facility in El Segundo and then we’d have dinner. Following dinner, we had a nice tour of the area including a drive by of Phil Jackson’s ocean front home in Playa Del Ray.
Tex and his wife Nancy lived in an apartment complex right near the LAX airport and we could hear the roar of the big planes landing close by. This was Tex’s first year as Phil Jackson’s assistant in LA and they already had won six NBA championship rings with the Chicago Bulls. Tex , who grew up in the depression era was never one to spend big bucks to live in a fancy gated community.
In fact, in later years with the Lakers, he and Nancy lived in the inner city of Carson, CA in a double wide trailer because as Tex said, “I’m not going to pay those big prices to stay in those fancy hotels downtown near the Staples center on game days.”
Magic & Cannon NBA 2000(Magic Johnson and Dyan Cannon near Laker Bench, picture by LWeigel)
The morning of the game, Tex loaned us his big red pre-owned Cadillac and said, “Why don’t you take Daniel out to Pauley Pavilion to see UCLA, then hit the other tourist spots like Beverly Hills- but be back here by 2:00 pm.” Tex was 78 at the time, and took his customary nap after lunch each day and on this day he- wanted to be at his best for the big game.
When Daniel and I returned at the designated time Daniel was wearing his newly purchased Laker uniform. Tex and Nancy loaded us up in Tex’s Laker provided SUV black Escalade Cadillac and we headed for the Staples Center.
We were met by an attendant at the underground Staples VIP parking garage. Tex headed straight for his pre-game meeting. Daniel and I explored an empty Staples Arena and bought our souvenirs-while Nancy chatted with former UCLA and NBA star Bill Walton , as thousands of victory hungry fans were gathering outside. The Lakers hadn’t won an NBA title since 1988.
We finally made our way to our seats in row eight right behind the Laker bench and got to watch all the dignitaries gather near courtside . Folks like movie stars Jack Nicholson, Dyan Cannon and Laker great Magic Jackson were sitting nearby. Cannon headed right for Tex and planted a big kiss on his lips.
Cannon, DyanNancy said Tex was a favorite among the stars but she didn’t like those direct kisses on the lips. Tex certainly looked like he didn’t mind- and seemed to be waiting for any other female stars who might be wondering over to the bench. The LA fans loved Tex especially the women.
Tex had his handy clipboard and sat right next to Jackson on the Laker bench. If you’ve ever wondered what he was writing throughout the game on that clipboard, he charted every possession of both teams and recorded each play as it happened. How he did it, I’ll never know, but the information proved to be invaluable to head Coach Jackson in critical situations. (Actress Dyan Cannon) photo Google Images
Coach Larry Bird’s Indiana team took an early lead. The Lakers had suffered their worst defeat of the season when Indiana beat them in Indianapolis just a few days earlier by 33 points. The Pacers- led by Reggie Miller were the best shooting team in the league. But- the game started to turn for the Lakers in the fourth quarter when they were down by five points 84-79. They gained the lead with a pre-set play the Pacers could not stop.
Jackson made reference to the play in his recent book “Eleven Rings” called the “fist chest”. Jackson wrote, “ One of our best moves was a play we called the “fist chest,” which involved having two players do a screen-roll on the wing while another filled to the corner. The beauty of the play was that it drew three Pacers away from the lane to cover the screen-roll and the corner shooter. That forced them to either cover Shaq one on one(a big mistake) or leave the corner shooter with a wide-open three (even worse).”
Jackson continued, “We ran the fist chest six times in the fourth period and it helped open up the floor for us.”
Keating-Jackson NBA finals 2000
The Lakers went on to win 116-111 and the place went wild. We just stood at our seats for the longest time and after about 20 minutes Tex showed up and waived for Daniel and me to follow him to the Laker dressing room.
I had been in the inner sanctum of the Chicago Bulls dressing and film room surrounded by Phil Jackson’s native American symbols hanging everywhere on the walls, and spent time with Tex and Jackson riding in Phil’s car after a Bulls game in Chicago, but never had the invitation to enter the dressing room right after a huge victory like this. This was special.
My buddy Daniel headed right up to Jackson for an autograph while we watched a fan riot happening outside of Staples on the TV screen above us. The Laker fans went nuts outside and set fire to a few cars as police sirens echoed in the background on the TV monitor.
Jackson had on his Laker letter Jacket and the 2000 championship emblem was already in place right above the 85-87-88 NBA championship emblems. Shaq and Kobe Bryant had already left the locker room but we got to mingle with the players who were still there which was a thrill of a lifetime for Daniel. He fit right in with his Laker uniform as he made the rounds for autographs.
After about 30 minutes, we left with Tex to find Nancy and headed to the owner’s private party . Jerry Buss, the Lakers owner was throwing a huge party in the upper level of the Staples Center and we had to wear blue wrist bands and go through tight security and a series of elevators to get there.
Horry-Daniel NBA 2000(Daniel & Robert Horry, photo L Weigel)
This time Tex and Nancy would not miss the post game celebration like they did a few years earlier after a Bulls championship win when they accidently boarded a city bus in Chicago instead of the Bulls bus and ended up riding around the streets of Chicago between bus stops- while the Bulls celebrated the win at a downtown Chicago hotel.
Following the party -we headed to the Staples parking garage and Tex’s SUV was waiting with the engine running. Since the aftermath of the riots still presented a danger we had a police escort out of the underground parking lot with siren blaring. The California state patrol officer took us all the way to the freeway to give Tex a send off so he could head back home without any traffic delays caused by the rioters.
The next morning Tex took us to breakfast and designed what Jackson called the “chest fist” play on the back of the LA time’s newspaper. Only Tex referred to the play as the penetrating dribble pitch pass play as he drew out the formation for us while eating his breakfast.
It was typical Winter genius in action. Tex explained that after running the screen and roll play with Shaq and Kolbe successfully, he inserted a counter play to surprise the Pacer’s late in the game. He said, “When Kobe started his dribble to the basket the Pacer defense dropped to help and Kobe pitched the ball to the top of the circle guard Derek Fisher and Fisher reversed the ball to Robert Horry for a wide open three point shot from the opposite corner.
Daniel-Larry NBA finals Jun 2000(Daniel & Larry Weigel)
This play which I believe led to the win came right out of the Tex Winter Triangle bible. The Triangle is predicated on the idea of inviting the defense to stop a particular option in the offense and when they do- you counter with a reverse action option, and this is exactly what happened. It was textbook Winter at his best.
Kobe became the decoy to bait the Pacers into a double team on him, and then he performed the Winter dribble pitch play and Horry came through with some wide open shots from the corner. That play was the game changer.
I’m not sure if Daniel saved that old newspaper with the magic play scribbled all over it, but it would be a great memorabilia piece to hang on to if he did. The next morning Tex drove us to the LAX airport and we were on our way back home.
Daniel told me on the plane, “I’ll never forget this weekend, it was an experience of a lifetime.” I told him, I’ve been around many sporting events in my life but this one tops it all. Thanks to the generosity of Tex and Nancy Winter this memory will remain as one of my all time best -and whenever I see Daniel, he’s still talking about it.