Former coach, triangle offense innovator Tex Winter dies at 96

Former coach Tex Winter, who pioneered the triangle offense that propelled the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers to multiple NBA championships, has died at the age of 96.

Kansas State University, where Winter first coached, said he died Wednesday in Manhattan, Kansas.

"I learned so much from Coach Winter. He was a pioneer and a true student of the game,'' Michael Jordan said in a statement emailed to the Chicago Tribune. "His triangle offense was a huge part of our six championships with the Bulls. He was a tireless worker. Tex was always focused on details and preparation and a great teacher. I was lucky to play for him. My condolences to his family.''

He later returned to Kansas State, where he served as head coach for 15 years and led the Wildcats to two Final Four appearances in six NCAA tournament trips.

Winter, who published "The Triple-Post Offense'' in 1962, made the leap to the NBA in 1971, serving as head coach of the Houston Rockets for two seasons. He was hired as an assistant coach with Chicago in 1985 by general manager Jerry Krause, teaming with head coach Phil Jackson to guide the Jordan-led Bulls to NBA titles in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998. 

"Tex Winter was a basketball legend and perhaps the finest fundamental teacher in the history of our game," said Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, a former player under Winter. "He was an innovator who had high standards for how basketball should be played and approached every day. Those of us who were lucky enough to play for him will always respect his devotion to the game of basketball. His contributions to the Bulls organization will always be remembered."

Before taking questions from reporters after Wednesday night's preseason game with the Lakers in Las Vegas, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr opened with some heartfelt sentiments about Winter, calling him "one of the most important people in my basketball career."

"What he did for me and the path he put me on and the chance he gave me in Chicago along with Phil Jackson changed my whole life," Kerr said. "I learned so much about basketball from Tex. [Warriors assistant] Ron Adams told me Tex knew more about the history of the game and the fundamentals of the game than anybody he'd ever met in his life. And I was lucky enough to play for Tex for five years and learn from him. A lot of what I do here with the Warriors is patterned after things I learned from Tex.

"And what a life he lived. He was a unique individual and had touched tons of lives, and today the news was tough. Tex was a special person to me and everybody who played for him."

In 1999, Winter followed Jackson to Los Angeles, where the triangle offense became the cornerstone of a Lakers team that won three championships from 2000 to 2002. Winter was a consultant with Los Angeles' 2009 title team, and the Lakers also won in 2010.

"On behalf of the entire Lakers organization, I'd like to express our sadness at the passing of Tex Winter," Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said in a statement. "Tex helped lead the team to four NBA Championships and was a mentor to many of our coaches and players. In addition to his numerous contributions to the game of basketball, Tex was a wonderful man and he will be dearly missed."

Former Lakers star Kobe Bryant called Winter a basketball genius "in every sense of the word.''

"My mentor. I sat with Tex & watched every minute of every game during our 1st season together. He taught me how to study every detail,'' Bryant posted on Twitter.

Lakers coach Luke Walton, who played for Los Angeles when Winter was Jackson's assistant, said he owed his playing career to Winter.

"Tex used to always try to get me in the game. I love Tex," Walton said. "I was talking to Steve [Kerr] about it a little bit, too. We were saying just how much guys like us owe our entire playing careers to Tex and people like that who really teach the game. He lived an amazing life and he'll be missed. I'm just grateful I got to spend some time with him and learn from him. He was an amazing man."

Another former Laker, Derek Fisher, remembered Winter as a coach who was "always able to manage his ego to do what was best for the team and best for the players."

"It's hard to argue that there's any assistant coach at the pro level that was more impactful than Tex Winter, and beyond professionally, just personally, was a great human being," Fisher said. "So even though he lived a long, full life, he's still going to be missed."

Winter was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011, his eighth time on the final ballot. A year earlier, he had been elected to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

"Like James Naismith, Tex Winter was an educator at heart who deeply believed in the values of the game of basketball -- teamwork, discipline and selflessness," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. "A pioneering Hall of Famer with 10 NBA Championships, he taught those values to generations of players and coaches, leaving a legacy that will forever be part of our history."

Born Morice Fredrick Winter in 1922 near Wellington, Texas, he grew up in Huntington Park, California, and starred at Oregon State and Southern California in basketball and as a pole vaulter.

"While the Winter family mourns the loss of a husband, father and grandfather, we also celebrate what was by any measure a fruitful, productive and eventful life,'' Winter's family said in a statement. "The Winter family would like extend appreciation to all those who played an important role in Tex's life. We would also like to extend thanks for the outpouring of blessings in the wake of this sad news.''

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.