My Voice

About the author

Dan Jones wrote for The Observer in the early 2000s and had the chance to do a piece on Hall of Fame coach Tex Winter, who had ties to La Grande. Mr. Winter passed away in October.

My Voice columns reflect the views of the author only. My Voice columns should be 500-700 words or as space allows. Submissions should include a portrait-type photograph of the author. Authors also should include their full name, age, occupation and relevant organizational memberships. We edit submissions for brevity, grammar, taste and legal reasons. We do not fact check. We reject those published elsewhere. Send columns to La Grande Observer, 1406 5th St., La Grande, Ore., 97850, fax them to 541-963-7804 or email them to news@lagrandeobserver.com .

I have a fascination with handwritten thank-you notes.

Right off the bat, I must say I’ve written only a handful in my lifetime.

It’s a remarkable gesture: taking the time to buy a card or pick up a note, raising the pen, composing a message, delivering your gratitude. That’s truly thoughtful. The people who make a habit of doing this, I think, are very special. Tex Winter was one of those people.

The former Bulls and Lakers assistant coach passed away recently at age 96. When a friend of mine let me know, the news stuck. I knew it would. I always thought I would write something about Mr. Winter when he passed away.

To be honest, I didn’t know what I wanted to write. I just knew I wanted to share the story of someone who wrote me a handwritten thank-you card.

In the summer of 2004, I was a sophomore-to-be at Eastern Oregon University. I wrote for the La Grande Observer in my hometown in Eastern Oregon. I also worked at a KFC. My dad, Jim, works at Grande Ronde Hospital. One of his old co-workers — a sweet-as-can-be woman named Jeannette Baum — knew Mr. Winter well. They had attended Oregon State University together. Winter’s late wife, Nancy, and Mrs. Baum were Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sisters. Winter went on to coach collegiately and professionally, and the rest is history. He accrued nine NBA championship rings and was inducted into the Hall of Fame after innovating the triangle offense. That summer in ’04, Mrs. Baum told my dad Mr. Winter was coming to town to visit her family. I think she had heard from my dad that I loved the NBA.

I wanted to write a feature on Mr. Winter for The Observer. A date was arranged, and on that day, our home phone rang. The caller ID showed Mrs. Baum’s number. I was nervous and excited. I picked up and it was Mr. Winter: “Hi, Dan,” he said. “This is Tex Winter. Where would you like to meet?”

We met at Mrs. Baum’s house and he drove me to a nearby diner, one that’s long gone now. The meeting was surreal — I asked him about Michael Jordan (“He expected an awful lot from players,” Mr. Winter said), about Dennis Rodman (“His life off the floor is what I worried about”) and about being surrounded by stardom (“I am never starstruck. I think much of the adulation of these players is undeserved”).

We returned to Mrs. Baum’s house, where Mr. Winter showed me his collection of rings. I took photographs for the newspaper and snapped several shots of him next to his accolades. My day, my week, my year had been made.

The story was published, and it seemed to generate a positive response (sometimes the best feedback is no feedback at all, you learn).

After a week or two passed, a letter arrived from California. It was from Mr. Winter, on Lakers stationery. The NBA legend wrote to say thank you for the article. He also said in the letter that I had a future as a writer. I was floored. Mr. Winter voluntarily went out of his way to thank a small-town kid for writing a story that surely had been told dozens of times before.

I went on to have a decade-long career as a sports reporter. As the years passed, I’d occasionally open up my belongings in storage to look at that note. The letter, I think, says a lot about successful people. I think it says a lot about Mr. Winter, and the amazing man he was.

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