What Happened to Jack McKinney After Leaving the Lakers? Where is He Now?

Image Credit: Warrick Page/HBO

HBO’s ‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty‘ highlights the journey of the LA Lakers basketball team as the scale heights of the basketball world, and it all started with Jack McKinney’s arrival at The Forum. The inventive coach implemented his innovative playing style. However, a tragedy prevented McKinney from ever truly reaping the rewards of the seeds he sowed. As a result, viewers must wonder what happened to Jack McKinney after he was let go by the Lakers and where he is now.

Jack McKinney’s Career Ended Abruptly

John Paul McKinney, better known as Jack McKinney, was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, on July 13, 1935. McKinney started his basketball coaching career at St. James High School before joining Dr. Jack Ramsay as an assistant coach at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where he had also studied. McKinney entered the NBA in 1974 as an assistant coach at Milwaukee Bucks. He spent two seasons with the franchise before departing for the Portland Trail Blazers in 1976, once again serving as an assistant coach.

Image Credit: Warrick Page/HBO

Ahead of the 1979-80 NBA season, McKinney was hired as the head coach of the LA Lakers team, recently acquired by Jerry Buss. Under McKinney, the Lakers won the first nine and lost only four of their opening thirteen games of the new season. However, on November 8, 1979, McKinney was involved in a biking accident at the intersection of Whitney Collins Drive and Stonecrest Road in Los Angeles.

The accident left McKinney in a coma, and Buss appointed McKinney’s assistant, Paul Westhead, as the interim head coach of the Lakers. Eventually, the Lakers went on to win the NBA Championship in the 1979-80 season under Westhead. McKinney recovered from his injuries but was not retained by Buss partially due to the team’s performances under Westhead and concerns over McKinney’s mental well-being. Ultimately, McKinney only worked on some scouting assignments for the Lakers after his recovery, and his departure was officially announced on May 13, 1980.

Jack McKinney Has Passed Away

After leaving the LA Lakers, Jack McKinney joined the Indiana Pacers at the start of the 1980–81 NBA season. He was reportedly hired at the insistence of Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss. The Pacers hit the ground running under McKinney, who guided the team to their first Playoff qualification since joining the NBA in 1976. However, the Pacers lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the Playoffs. Nonetheless, McKinney’s tenure with the Pacers would not go unrecognized. He was awarded the NBA Coach of the Year title over his former apprentice, Paul Westhead, who guided the Lakers to a first-round loss in the Playoffs against the Houston Rockets.

Image Credit: Associated Press

However, the achievement would serve as the high point of McKinney’s NBA coaching career, as the Pacers experienced a steep decline in form over the following seasons. The Pacers finished with the worst league record during the regular season in 1983–84. As a result, McKinney was fired from the position of head coach. He was hired as the head coach of the Kansas City Kings at the start of the 1984-85 NBA season. However, McKinney resigned from his position, citing health-related issues, particularly trouble with his memory, as the primary reason for his departure.

McKinney left basketball coaching completely and worked as a sales representative for a sporting goods company in his native Pennsylvania. He eventually moved to Florida with his wife, Claire (Cranny) McKinney, and retired in Naples, Florida. McKinney passed away on September 25, 2018, at a hospice in Bonita Springs, Florida. He was 83 years old at the time of his passing and presumably died from natural causes. McKinney is survived by his wife and four children. A fictionalized version of McKinney appears in the HBO drama series ‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,’ with actor Tracy Letts essaying the role. McKinney’s family was reportedly happy with the late ex-Lakers coach’s portrayal in the series.

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