- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
At exactly the mile mark, McKinney drops out, leaving Ann and her companion to continue along a narrow two-lane highway. Without her father, Ann quickens her pace, causing her blonde ponytail to bob up and down. "It's good that Dad's running again," she says. "For a while there he was lazy, very self-centered. I don't mean egotistical, I mean he was very concerned about himself and his job. My sister and I were burning inside because he was never like that before, and we wanted him to snap out of it. You know, I felt so much for what he was going through. The pain. The frustration. The humiliation. The questions, God, all those questions." Her eyes widen to emphasize the point. "Even for me the questions never stopped. 'How's your dad? How's his head? How's he feeling?' It was hard to answer them.
"I think now I can say he's improved a lot. At first, when he came home, his mind wandered, but that's because more than anything his mind was always on other things. He was so preoccupied last year with going back to coaching the Lakers. My mom and I didn't think he'd get the job back, but he thought he would. He really had high hopes. Then, when he didn't get it, he was so depressed. Mostly, he'd sit around the house and sleep. Mom told us that we had to understand when a person has brain damage it takes a while before he overcomes depression. But do you know why I admire my dad most? It's because he refuses, despite all that's happened, to knock Mr. Buss or Mr. Westhead. He's keeping it all bottled up inside."
The following afternoon, McKinney, wearing a red bathing suit, is sprawled out on a chaise longue, a few feet from the glistening Sea Isle City beach. He places his hand on his forehead and gazes out over the strand. "To be honest," he says, "I was not as excited as I expected I'd be about getting back to coaching. But slowly the excitement is building up again. And for me personally, I have to be excited if I'm to attain that level of intensity needed on the pro level. Plus, I think the attitude of players stems so much from what they perceive my attitude to be. So I have to be up. But I think Sam Nassi has faith in my abilities, or why else would he have hired me?"
The question of why Nassi hired McKinney has been the subject of considerable speculation among pro basketball people. Obviously, some think it more than a coincidence that McKinney was brought in by Nassi, Buss' partner in the company that leases Market Square Arena, where the Pacers play. Was this Buss' way of throwing McKinney a bone? "I asked Sam if there was any connection between his hiring me and Buss, and he said no, and I believe him," McKinney says. "Also, I told Sam that I wanted nothing to do with Buss whatsoever."
And there are those who feel that McKinney still may not be up to coaching. But Nassi say, I don't feel I'm taking a chance with Jack because I feel it was Jack who orchestrated the Lakers' championship. L.A. in the past always had the talent, but it lacked a coach who could blend it together. Jack did that, and he got Kareem playing again. He's a tremendously talented individual."
But is he healthy enough?
"Of course he is," says Nassi. "Before we signed Jack to his contract, he agreed to undergo a series of thorough examinations by a team of neurologists, and he passed them with flying colors. As far as I'm concerned, Jack's as healthy as any other coach in the league."
Nassi pauses a second and continues, "You want to know what kind of individual Jack is? Well, a few weeks after L.A. dismissed him, I called him to see if he'd be interested in the Pacer job, and he said he couldn't discuss it because I had a coach. Now, remember, at the time Jack was without a job, and there was a good possibility I might have moved on to somebody else. That should show you what a gentleman he is."
When reminded of the incident McKinney says, "I felt for Slick," meaning Slick Leonard. "I know what it's like to think your job might be on the line and not hear a word from anyone. That uncertainty can play cruel games on your mind. So I wanted no part of it, even though at the time I was very, very interested in the job."
On almost any subject—sports, movies, restaurants—McKinney will talk at great length. But on the subject of his firing he chose for a long time to say almost nothing. He didn't want to sound bitter, to toss verbal grenades. Whenever the conversation edged near the topic of Buss or Westhead, one could almost hear McKinney's inner alarm go off. "Even though I often think about how things could've been," he says, "I want the whole thing to become history."