Posted: Friday July 28, 2006 12:13PM; Updated: Friday July 28, 2006 6:01PM
By Arash Markazi
Chances are the bus driver wouldn't have quoted Shakespeare to his team during games as Westhead routinely did. "I called a timeout once because I wanted our team to go faster, and I quoted Macbeth in the huddle," he says. "I turned to Magic [Johnson] and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and said, 'If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly.' Then Magic looked at me and said, 'I get it, you want me to get the ball and run it down the court and score.'"
The unorthodox young coach put his mark on NBA Finals history when he started Johnson at center and allowed the rookie point guard to play all five positions over the course of the game, as the Lakers, without their captain, Abdul-Jabbar, defeated the 76ers in Philadelphia to win the championship. "I remember talking to Magic about it on the plane going to Philadelphia, and he said he had no problem with starting at center because he played center in high school," says Westhead, a Philadelphia native who played at Saint Joseph's under Dr.Jack Ramsay. "It got the attention of everyone. After he jumped center, the first play down the court he shot a turn-around jump hook and it was almost like he was saying, 'I am Kareem.'"
Despite leading the Lakers to their first championship in nearly a decade, Westhead's honeymoon period with his talented team quickly dissolved. After the Lakers went 54-28 in his second season, going 28-17 while Johnson was sidelined for 45 games after suffering torn cartilage in his left knee, the team was shockingly ousted in three games by the Houston Rockets in the first round.
It wasn't long before rumblings about players' unhappiness with Westhead got out. Rumors circulated that Westhead was becoming too overbearing and controlling, cutting back the creativity and spontaneity that had become the trademark of the "Showtime" era he'd helped usher in. As the 1981-82 season rolled around, those rumblings turned into a tidal wave of criticism from players. It culminated in Johnson's now infamous "I'm not having any fun ... trade me" tirade after the Lakers defeated the Jazz 113-110 in Utah to improve to 7-4 on the season. The next day Westhead was fired and replaced by his assistant Pat Riley, who was a broadcaster when Westhead had hired him less than two years earlier, when others in the organization wanted him to choose from a list of a half-dozen more experienced candidates.
Only 17 months after winning a world championship in his hometown, Westhead was let go as abruptly as he was brought in. He would be forced to sit at home and watch as his former team won 17 of its next 20 games en route to beating the 76ers again for their second championship in three years. "I really wasn't the mover in that world," says Westhead, whose winning percentage in the regular season (.691) and postseason (.684) still rank second only to Riley in Lakers history. "I thought we were in the process of working things out. We were in the middle of a five-game winning streak. I can't really blame anyone in particular. I would say it was bad luck and bad timing."
"How poor are they that have not patience!" --Othello
The timing, which had been so perfect for Westhead at the beginning of his professional career -- taking over a Lakers team with a legendary captain, a rookie sensation and a first-year, spend-at-all-costs owner -- continued to get worse when he took his next job, with the Chicago Bulls. At the time, it was the basketball equivalent of getting dumped by Bo Derek and hooking up with Bea Arthur as your rebound.