As mentioned previously in my posts, I associate Sports with my life a lot whether it is through social interactions or my approach to work, very often. It’s very easy for me to relate something and somehow tie it in with sports because it’s something I know very well whether it is knowingly or unknowingly.
About a year ago, I watched a documentary on Paul Westhead. Paul Westhead was an assistant basketball coach in the NBA for the LA Lakers who because of insane luck (Then Lakers head coach Jack McKinney had gotten into a bicycle accident and could not coach the team for the remainder of the season after about 14 games in of an 82 game season) was able to be the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers who had two of the top 10 NBA players of all-time: innovative Big Man, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and the transcendent Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Paul given his shot at the big time to coach the legendary Lakers immediately implemented his unique style of basketball on the team. It was a fast break/uptempo street-ball way of playing basketball, he called “The System”. Paul was influenced by playing street-ball growing up in Philadelphia
“The System” at first glance to even the most casual of basketball observer looks like a chaotic mess, though when you pay attention, it’s actually a disciplined, deliberate system designed to put a lot of points on the scoreboard and wears down the opposing team mentally and physically to the point of exhaustion.
“The System” requires the point guard to immediately move the ball down the court as fast as possible while shooting guard and the small forward run down the court parallel down the edges of the court to shoot while the Power Forward goes down the middle with the Center acting as the trailer and cleaning up the rebounds.
To be honest, as a basketball fan, it’s pretty frickin exciting to watch but at the same time, “The System” to the knowledgable NBA fan is hard way to win a championship.
It’s hard because while “The System” allows a team to score a lot of points, it will also allow the opposing team to score a lot of points because it relies on risk-taking defense that gives the opponents many chances to score and teams also eventually got wise and took measures to slow the game hence making slowing down “The System”.
Paul in his first year as a Head Coach for the Lakers ended up winning the NBA title with the Lakers leading them to 60 wins and defeating the Philadelphia 76ers in the Finals where in the clinching game, undersized Point Guard Magic Johnson playing the Center position because Kareem rolled his ankle during the series. This kickstarted the Laker franchise into winning 4 more titles in the 80’s.
Eventually Magic Johnson grew tired of Westhead’s “System” and demanded Westhead be fired in his 3rd season despite winning a title. Ownership who had just given Magic, the richest contract in basketball relented to his wishes and fired Westhead and promoted Pat Riley to head coach running a toned down version of “The System” now called “Showtime” with an emphasis of tough, physical defense. Pat Riley led the Lakers to the remaining four titles in the 80’s.
Paul immediately took on another NBA job for the Chicago Bulls, again implementing “The System” but without the great players like Kareem and Magic or even players who fit the system, they finished 28-54 and was immediately fired.
Paul considered giving up on coaching until Loyola Marymount University (LMU), a small private college in Malibu, California offered him a job to coach their team, which he took realizing his radical “System” would be better embraced to young players eager to play in college.
Paul again lucked out when two Philly area High School stars, Sharpshooter Bo Kimble and Undersized Hard Driving Big Man Hank Gathers transferred to LMU from USC. Finally, Paul had the willing players he needed to truly implement “The System”.
The results were immediate and LMU broke NCAA scoring records and made the NCAA Tournament, 3 consecutive seasons.
Paul finally felt that sense of personal “nirvana” only a few people will ever achieve in life. Something he truly believed in was finally getting the recognition and with perfect players for the system, Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers. Hank lead the NCAA in his junior year in points and rebounds and was an exciting player to watch because of his high-flying, hard charging slam dunks.
Paul’s luck changed for the worst eventually. During LMU’s conference tournament, Hank Gathers after finishing a dunk off an alley oop immediately dropped to the floor and was immediately rushed to the hospital. Hank died of an enlarged heart, tragic irony considering he played like he had one. Earlier that year, he had an irregular heartbeat, when the heart medication he was taking was slowing him down, he decided to no longer take them which eventually started the path to his eventual death.
Despite Hank’s tragic passing, Paul, Hank’s friend Bo Kimble (who in tribute to his friend Hank, shot his first free throw left-handed and swished it because Hank liked shooting free throws with his left hand) and a galvanized LMU team running “The System” began a Cinderella run for the NCAA title upsetting the defending National Champion and the #2 seed only losing in the Elite 8 to the eventual NCAA champion, UNLV Rebels.
Hank’s family who were justifiably upset in losing a loved one, after the season immediately sued Westhead and LMU claiming they caused Hank’s death especially because of Westhead’s “System”.
While the Gathers family dropped Paul from the suit realizing this was not his fault and eventually settled with the school, Paul was too overwhelmed by everything and decided to leave LMU immediately back to the NBA where he tried to implement his system with the Denver Nuggets only for the team to give up a lot of points and Paul losing his job after 3 years.
Paul despite all the what happened to him with people doubting his system and bouncing around from job to job. Never relented or gave up on “The System”, even admitting, he was too stubborn to give up on it.
Paul’s bouncing around lead to the WNBA’s Phoenix Suns. Paul implemented “The System” with this group of girls including star female Basketball player, Diana Taurasi. Again with the right players who were willing to buy in to “The System”, this time Paul’s luck didn’t run out. The Phoenix Mercury ended up winning the WNBA title with Paul Westhead being the only coach to ever win a NBA title and a WNBA title.
Why am I telling you this story? This isn’t a story about basketball, it’s a story about sticking to your beliefs and your convictions despite all who will try to bring you down and the crazy things in life that can happen that can shake your beliefs. Paul despite what many told him and he would probably concede that they were right never gave up for what he believed was the right way of winning basketball and eventually he was able to prove it to everyone. If there was a class about “Sticking to your beliefs”, this is the case study of how perseverance really can work out in the end.
Have a Good 4th of July Burrito!
-V. for Vinnie