Unraveling the Enigma of Jack McKinney from the LA Lakers

Jack McKinney: The Architect Behind the Showtime Lakers

When it comes to the success of the Showtime-era LA Lakers in the 1980s, many credit Pat Riley for his role as head coach. However, the true visionary behind the team’s run-and-gun offensive concepts was Jack McKinney, the Lakers’ former head coach. McKinney’s innovative strategies played a crucial role in leading the Lakers to five championships between 1980 and 1988, making him a key figure in the team’s illustrious history.

The Early Years and Rise to Success

Before his coaching days, Jack McKinney was a standout guard at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia during the 1950s. After completing his playing career, McKinney returned to his alma mater in 1960 as an assistant coach. It was here that he honed his coaching skills and eventually secured his first head-coaching position at Philadelphia Textile before taking over as head coach at Saint Joseph’s in 1966.

During his tenure at Saint Joseph’s, McKinney achieved eight consecutive winning seasons, amassing an impressive record of 142-77. However, he faced dismissal after a first-round exit in the 1974 March Madness tournament. McKinney then transitioned into the role of assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks before joining the coaching staff of the Portland Trail Blazers, where he played a vital role in developing an up-tempo offense.

McKinney’s impact became evident when the Trail Blazers claimed the 1977 NBA championship. His success continued as he served as an assistant coach under Dr. Jack Ramsay for several seasons, further solidifying his reputation as an offensive mastermind.

Joining the Lakers and Creating a Revolution

Before the 1979-1980 season, Jerry West stepped down as the Lakers’ head coach, and owner Jerry Buss sought a new coaching talent. McKinney emerged as an unexpected choice, bringing a fresh perspective and a vision aligned with Buss’s desire for an exciting, fast-paced style of play. McKinney aimed to implement a free-flowing offense that emphasized fast breaks, even after made baskets, which would put tremendous pressure on opposing defenses and provide the Lakers with a competitive edge.

McKinney’s offensive strategy perfectly complemented Magic Johnson, a rookie and the top pick in the 1979 NBA Draft. However, not all the players were immediately receptive to the new system, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dismissing it as glorified street ball. Nevertheless, under McKinney’s guidance, the Lakers started the season with a promising 10-4 record.

The McKinney Era and the Rise of Pat Riley

Tragically, with only 14 games under his belt, McKinney’s coaching career took a detour when he suffered a severe bicycle accident. Assistant coach Paul Westhead stepped in and took over as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Westhead preserved and implemented the offensive playbook McKinney had introduced during training camp, leading the Lakers to win the 1980 NBA championship.

Despite the success, tensions arose between Westhead and the players, particularly Magic Johnson, who felt that Westhead deviated from McKinney’s offense. As a result, Westhead was dismissed after a first-round playoff exit in 1981, much to the players’ satisfaction. This marked the beginning of Pat Riley’s reign as the Lakers’ head coach.

Riley took charge at the start of the 1981-82 season and reintroduced McKinney’s offensive system. The Lakers thrived under Riley’s leadership, securing the 1982 championship with the iconic Showtime offense. Riley would go on to guide the Lakers to four more titles, including back-to-back championships in 1987 and 1988, finally toppling their long-time rivals, the Boston Celtics, in the NBA Finals.

Winning Time: The Legacy of Jack McKinney

The enduring impact of Jack McKinney and his innovative up-tempo offense is explored in the HBO series “Winning Time.” Although initially planned to be titled “Showtime,” HBO decided on “Winning Time” to avoid confusion with its rival network. The series delves into the behind-the-scenes of the Lakers’ dynasty, beginning with Jerry Buss’s acquisition of the team in 1979.

Tracey Letts portrays McKinney in the series, with a running joke revolving around the question, “Who the !$%# is Jack McKinney?”. Both Jerry West and Jerry Buss, initially skeptical of McKinney’s relative obscurity, eventually recognize his offensive genius when studying game film of the Trail Blazers. They realize that Jack McKinney, the unassuming assistant coach, possesses the perfect qualities to deliver an exciting and fast-paced game experience to boost ticket sales.

With McKinney’s innovative approach at the helm, the Lakers succeeded in providing fans with an electrifying, high-paced style of play that transformed the atmosphere of watching a Lakers game into a must-see event, reminiscent of the glamour of the Oscars, the excitement of the Hollywood Bowl, and the allure of the Playboy Mansion.

Life Beyond the Lakers

After recovering from his near-fatal accident, McKinney continued his coaching career with the Indiana Pacers for the 1980-81 season. He led the Pacers through a remarkable turnaround, earning the NBA Coach of the Year award by guiding the team from one of the Eastern Conference’s weakest to a playoff contender. The Pacers adopted a similar offensive style to McKinney’s Lakers, further solidifying his reputation as an offensive innovator.

However, McKinney’s success in Indiana was short-lived, as subsequent seasons proved challenging, causing the Pacers to relieve him of his coaching duties after four years. He briefly coached the Kansas City Kings in 1984 but resigned after a dismal start with a 1-8 record in just nine games. Following this unfortunate stint, McKinney retired from coaching and never returned to the NBA sidelines.

In hindsight, McKinney’s overall career record as an NBA head coach may not appear remarkable, standing at 136-215. However, those familiar with his contributions know that he was the true creative genius behind the iconic Showtime Lakers. Fortunately, through the HBO series “Winning Time,” viewers have the opportunity to gain insight into McKinney’s lasting impact on basketball and the legacy of his revolutionary up-tempo offense.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How did Jack McKinney’s coaching style differ from his predecessors?

McKinney introduced a run-and-gun offensive approach that emphasized fast breaks and relentless pressure on opposing defenses, even after made baskets. This style of play allowed the Lakers to maintain a high-octane offense and catch opponents off guard.

2. What was the Showtime offense, and how did it revolutionize basketball?

The Showtime offense was the brainchild of Jack McKinney and later implemented by Pat Riley. It involved rapid ball movement, fast breaks, and coordinated teamwork, resulting in an exhilarating and high-scoring brand of basketball that captivated fans and revolutionized the sport.

3. How did the Lakers’ coaching transition from McKinney to Riley impact the team?

The transition from McKinney to Riley marked a pivotal moment in the Lakers’ history. Riley’s commitment to maintaining McKinney’s offensive system led to their continued success, culminating in multiple championships and solidifying the Lakers’ place as one of the dominant teams of the era.

4. What role did Jack McKinney play in the rise of Magic Johnson’s career?

McKinney’s run-and-gun offensive strategies perfectly suited Magic Johnson’s skillset and allowed him to thrive as the Lakers’ point guard. McKinney’s offensive vision enabled Johnson to showcase his unique abilities and catalyzed his rise to becoming one of the greatest players in NBA history.

5. Is Jack McKinney’s impact on the Lakers recognized and appreciated today?

While some may overlook McKinney’s contributions, basketball insiders and fans who understand the sport’s history recognize McKinney as the brilliant architect behind the iconic Showtime Lakers. His innovative offensive concepts continue to influence basketball strategy, ensuring his lasting legacy.

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