'Winning Time': Why did Jack McKinney's career as Lakers coach come to an abrupt end?

'Winning Time': Why did Jack McKinney's career as Lakers coach come to an abrupt end?
Jack McKinney (Getty Images)

Not many knew who Jack McKinney was and 'Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty' sheds light on the man (played by Tracy Letts) who introduced the up-tempo style of play that eventually was vital for the team's success. What's known: His time with the Purple and Gold came to a premature end after a bicycle incident. What's unknown: The show puts the spotlight on him as a no-nonsense genius who intended to make the Lakers a more offensive and tight unit that initially came to that cost of groveling players.

McKinney was pretty much an under-the-radar man who had stints as an unknown assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Portland Trail Blazers and won an NBA Championship with the latter in the 1976-77 season. Although it was the Pennsylvania native who set the tone for the famed 'Showtime' offense, he never got an actual shot to gain some reputation as the Lakers head coach primarily due to the accident that eventually saw him being let go.


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Why was Jack McKinney let go as the Lakers head coach?

It was an accident that pretty much dented a promising career. The Lakers were 9-4 in the season when McKinney suffered a dangerous head injury after falling while bicycling. His absence saw assistant coach Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) take over the reins. Westhead introduced some creative plays and blended them with McKinney's fast breaks and the offense making the Lakers more successful as they finished with a 60-22 regular season. They made the NBA finals and McKinney was fired mid-series.

The absence of one of the more attacking coaches didn't deter the side as they won the series and the management hired Westhead as McKinney's permanent replacement. Although it was Pat Riley (Adrien Brody in the show) who takes massive credit as the coach who led the side to four titles and was instrumental with the creation of the 'Showtime Lakers', the foundation was actually laid by McKinney.

Jeff Pearlman, the author of 'Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s' recounts how point guard Norm Nixon credited McKinney as the OG creator of Showtime. An excerpt from the book reads: "Is Jack McKinney universally acknowledged as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the National Basketball Association?“I have no doubt that he would be,” said Nixon. “No doubt whatsoever." McKinney eventually went on to coach the Indiana pacers and died at the age of 83. The aftermath of the accident saw him suffer from memory loss and other neurological issues.

Although the HBO drama will shed more light on McKinney's career in the next episode, the introductory chapter was the first that saw the Lakers unit on the hardwood shaping up to be the successful team they were destined to be.

'Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty' airs Sundays at 9 pm ET on HBO.

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