Thursday, August 11, 2011

Goodbye Triangle, hello Hall of Fame

  In the summer of 1990, the Chicago Bulls had been dismissed from the playoffs by Detroit’s Bad Boy Pistons for the third consecutive time.  Things looked particularly bleak for the Bulls in the point guard match up that pitted the slow footed, sound shooting John Paxson against the lighting quick, smiling blur of Isiah Thomas.  Phil Jackson, second year head coach of the Bulls, had a solution in mind.  He wanted to lighten Paxson’s load by implementing a system offense that didn’t require a dominant ball handler.  Fortunately for the Bulls, they happened to have an architect for just this kind of offense on hand.

    In the fall of 1990, Tex Winter was keeping a watchful eye over drills during the Bulls training camp.  Eventually his eyes landed on one Michael Jeffrey Jordan holding a basketball.  The “SPEC-TA-CU-LAR” Jordan could get to any spot on the floor, get a shot off from inconceivable angles, could leap out of Chicago Stadium in a single bound, and that season would go on to win his second MVP and first NBA championship.  But as Winter watched the ball leave Jordan’s hands, Tex’s eyes became filled with disappointment.  For all of his worldly talents, Michael Jordan could not pass the ball.  Not in the sense that Jordan lacked court vision.  Not even in the sense that Jordan was an over dribbling, over penetrating ball hog.  No, Tex Winter’s disappointment stemmed from the fact that Michael Jordan could not throw a technically sound chest pass.  Last season, the Bulls had used some parts of Winter’s offense.  This season would mark the first time an NBA team would embrace the entire scope of the Triangle Offense.  However, Winter had to do one thing before he could implement the storied offense - teach Michael Jordan how to throw a proper chest pass.

    From the fall of 1990 to the summer of 2011, Winter’s offense would help provide structure for 11 out of the next 21 NBA champions.  In each and every one of those seasons, not one small detail was taken for granted.  Not many coaches would bother criticizing Jordan’s inability to throw a chest pass, but to Winter, the proper chest pass technique was as important as any play itself.  Winter’s career started when he adapted Sam Barry’s center opposite into the triple post offense.  He took his offense to Kansas State where his teams owned eight league titles, two Final Fours, and ran Wilt Chamberlin out of the University of Kansas to the Globetrotter’s.  After trying his hand in the NBA, Winter found an unexpected home with the Chicago Bulls.  He coached Jordan for thirteen years (longer than any other coach could claim), grew to appreciate Scottie Pippen’s natural feel for the game, counseled Dennis Rodman’s hair color changing psyche, barked at Shaq about his free throw woes, and witnessed the 81 point fury of Kobe’s insatiable hunger.  Winter’s success could be dismissed by saying he was merely lucky to have superstars that could bail the triangle out when the complex unfolding sequence of options stalled.  But what really separated Winter from other coaches was the fact that the correct way to throw a chest pass was never far from his mind.  He was a coach’s coach committed to preaching the ways of the “Basketball Gods”: playing hard at both ends of the court, with a team oriented, fundamentally sound, well spaced offense that featured ball and player movement with a purpose.  

    When I first started this site, my goal was to demystify the triangle and explain the basics of the offense.  As time passed, it became clearer to me that the real importance of the blog was to show that the triangle wasn’t some magical system for winning championships. The triangle is a philosophy of basketball whose format is dependent on the execution of simple fundamentals that can be applied to any team that seeks to play unified basketball.  As the triangle’s time in the NBA seems to be coming to an end, it’s fitting that its architect will finally be enshrined in the Hall of Fame after six decades of service to teaching the game of basketball.  To the man who helped me learn how to throw a proper chest pass I can only say thank you, and congratulations.


  1. Thanks Joon....great tribute. Please check out my page on Facebook, CSCA Crusaders Boys Basketball.

    Steve Fitzgerald

  2. so you are jordan?

  3. He's using the chest pass as a metaphor for sound, fundamental basketball.

  4. I didn't know in the 89-90 season the Bulls only used "parts of the offense." I do know that said it took about 2 seasons to entirely understand the entire offense. Bill Cartwright said in the 90-91 season in a game at Denver the team started to realize the offense was really effective.