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Former Lakers, Pacers coach Jack McKinney dies at age 83

Earvin Magic Johnson

These three new faces from left Brad Holland, of University of California at Los Angeles; head coach Jack McKinney, former assistant at Milwaukee; and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, of Michigan State; were on hand when the Los Angeles Lakers opened their 1979-80 season with picture day, Sept. 14, 1979 in Los Angeles. Johnson was the first player selected in the NBA draft this year, the first time in 19 years the Lakers have had first pick. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)


In 1979, the Lakers hired Jack McKinney for his first NBA head-coaching job. He made 6-foot-9 rookie Magic Johnson the point guard, shifted established point guard Norm Nixon to shooting guard and demanded Kareem Abdul-Jabbar adjust to an up-tempo style.

It was remarkable. Take it from the man who literally wrote the book on the Showtime Lakers.

Jeff Pearlman:

“People don’t really get now how crazy it all was and how crazy of an idea it was. We’re going to take this thing that worked pretty well and blow it up and make it something revolutionary. To me that’s the tragedy of Jack McKinney, he could have gone down, I think, as one of the great coaches in the history of the NBA and he’s really just forgotten.”

Unfortunately, Pearlman also has sad news:

McKinney was 83.

So, why wasn’t his NBA legacy more known? He suffered a serious head injury while riding his bike early in his first season. After guiding the Lakers to a 10-4 start, he never coached them again – giving him the best record in a season by a non-interim coach who didn’t finish the year until the Cavaliers fired David Blatt. Assistant coach Paul Westhead took over, guided the Lakers to the 1980 title then ceded the way to Pat Riley, who became the coach most synonymous with the Showtime Lakers.

McKinney went to the Pacers and won Coach of the Year in 1981. He spent a few more losing seasons in Indiana.

Then, he coached the Kansas City Kings – but his tenure was even shorter than with the Lakers. After 1-9 start to the 1984-85 season, a stressed-out McKinney resigned.

Maybe, without the bike accident, we’d recognize McKinney as one of the greatest coaches of all-time. He had a bold plan and plenty of talented players.

But we’ll also remember McKinney as the only coach with two appearances on the list of shortest coaching tenures.