It's 45 minutes before tip-off at a BullsKnicks game, and Chicago assistant coach Tex Winter is doing what he loves: teaching basketball. Dressed in a gray double-breasted suit but no tie (he'll put one on before the game), Winter, 77, stands beside 6'9" rookie forward Kornel David, a Hungarian who barely speaks English, and patiently instructs him on the nuances of the Bulls' famed triangle offense. At times Winter takes David by the arm to show him where to go.
This season has been as challenging for Winter as any in his 52 years of coaching. As the architect of the Chicago triangle, he was asked by new coach Tim Floyd to stick around and teach the unique read-and-react offense to a team with eight new players, including three starters. Progress has been slow. At week's end the Bulls were 4-10. They were averaging an NBA-low 80.9 points a game and shooting a woeful 38.7%. "We knew it was going to be rough, and it has been," says Winter.
It's not easy for him to watch his beloved offense in the hands of novices, but he's been able to remain patient. A self-proclaimed "basketball lifer," he admits he probably wouldn't have come back this season if Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the rest of Chicago's world championship cast had returned. "There would have been no need," says Winter. "With this team, I feel I can make a contribution."
Winter, who may retire at season's end, figures he has done more teaching this season than in any other since '88-89, when the Bulls switched to the triangle. At Floyd's behest, Winter has been running practices on occasion and has stopped taking notes during games in order to provide more technical guidance. "I'm trying to learn as much as I can from him," says Floyd, who has been videotaping practices for future reference."
The players also seem to be honored to have Winter around. When they fail to run the triangle well. they feel as bad for inter as they do for themselves. "It's got to be frustrating for him," says guard Brent Barry, one of the team's newcomers. "For years he's seen it run to perfection. Now he's got a bunch of guys learning it on the fly."
After Chicago scored a franchise-low 63 points in a loss to the Knicks last month, Winter stood stoically in a corner of the locker room and stared at a stat sheet. "We need a finisher," he said. "We don't have anybody who can put the ball in the basket." Later, as he headed for the team bus, Winter considered the challenge that lay ahead: "We'll just have to keep working, I guess."