When you see the retrospective highlight clips of Michael Jordan this weekend, they almost all start with him in Carolina blue, knocking down the jumper that wins the Tar Heels a national championship.
But did that and the three seasons Jordan played at North Carolina make his six NBA titles and the rest of his success possible?
None other than Tex Winter, architect of the triangle offense Jordan and Phil Jackson won with in Chicago, thinks the answer is yes.
This according to Roland Lazenby, the author of “Blood On The Horns, The Long Strange Ride of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls” (which is being re-released right now by Diversion Books as an ebook edition in honor of Jordan’s birthday) and also the author of a new Jordan biography due out in the spring of 2014 (by Little, Brown). Lazenby has a great relationship with Winter, and he talked about those years
“Tex Winter always credited Dean Smith because Jordan first played in a tightly run system at North Carolina,” Lazenby told ProBasketballTalk. “If he hadn’t done that, Jordan would never have accepted the triangle offense as he did, Winter said.”
Jordan thrived in that offense, which is predicated on spacing and on high basketball IQ players moving the ball and taking what the defense gave them. The offense not only helped Jordan score but also helped get his teammates good looks allowing them to help.
Of course, it all comes back to MJ.
“Still, so much of the credit is Jordan’s because he had the character and intelligence and will to bend his game to that offense,” Lazenby said. “Then there’s Scottie Pippen. His maturing into the kind of player to could team with Jordan to make this magical core to a competitive dynamo, well, that contribution was immeasurable, as Jordan and everyone else involved has acknowledged.”
Jordan was the icon and is the consensus greatest player ever to play the game. You can’t ever take that away from him. But he didn’t do it all alone.
And Dean Smith deserves some of the credit.