The Speed Game


The Speed Game

My Fast Times in Basketball

Paul Westhead

248 pages
20-25 images

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November 2020


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About the Book

Paul Westhead was teaching high school in his native Philadelphia when he was named La Salle University’s men’s basketball coach in 1970. By 1980 he was a Los Angeles Lakers assistant, soon to be hired as head coach, winning an NBA title with Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and rookie guard Magic Johnson. After compiling a 112-50 record, he was fired in November 1981. After a short stay as coach of the Chicago Bulls, Westhead reemerged in the mideighties as a coach at Loyola Marymount in California, where he designed his highly unusual signature run-and-gun offense that came to be known as “The system.”

The Speed Game offers a vibrant account of how Westhead helped develop a style of basketball that not only won at the highest levels but went on to influence basketball as it’s played today. Known for implementing an up-tempo, quick-possession, high-octane offense, Westhead is the only coach to have won championships in both the NBA and WNBA. But his long career can be defined by one simple question he’s heard from journalists, fellow coaches, his wife, and, well, himself: Why? Why did he insist on playing such a controversial style of basketball that could vary from brilliant to busted?

Westhead speaks candidly here about the feathers he ruffled and about his own shortcomings as he takes readers from Philadelphia’s West Catholic High, where he couldn’t make varsity, to the birth of the Showtime Lakers and to the powerhouse he built nearly ten years later at Loyola, where his team set records likely never to be approached.

Westhead says he always found himself telling prospective bosses, “My speed game is gonna knock your socks off!” So will his story and what it could do to bring back a popular style of play.


Author Bio

Paul Westhead has been a basketball coach and offensive innovator with forty-plus years of experience at all levels. He taught English and coached basketball at Cheltenham High School and was an assistant basketball coach at his alma mater, St. Joseph’s University, before coaching at La Salle University. Westhead guided the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA championship in 1980 and brought his high-scoring offense to the Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Orlando Magic, and Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder. He took his fast-break style to the college game at Loyola Marymount and also to the WNBA, where his Phoenix Mercury team won the championship in 2007.


“When the madness of Coach Westhead’s speed game combines with willing talent, magic happens on the basketball court. It’s not the speed game people couldn’t keep up with; it was his beautiful mind that most couldn’t follow. An intriguing insight into the life of the guru of go.”—Diana Taurasi, winner of an NCAA championship with the University of Connecticut, a WNBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury, and of an Olympic gold medal

“Coach Westhead became head coach of the LA Lakers under unusual and difficult circumstances, yet was always well-prepared, well-composed, and honest about where he was coming from. His journey from ‘stretching,’ to small college coach, to NBA head coach, to WNBA head coach, to international head coach is riveting and fascinating. Like him or not, crazy or genius, one thing can’t be denied: he is a world champion, and more than once.”—Jamaal Wilkes

"Don't get the idea that The Speed Game is infatuated repetitiously with a scheme for winning basketball games. Mr. Westhead gives us a lot more. It may be a surprise to readers to learn how graceful and interesting a writer he is. . . . In his memoir, he writes especially well about coaching the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA championship in 1980 and the Phoenix Mercury, led by the great Diana Taurasi, to the 2007 women's title. He also describes how, in the late 1980s, he transformed Loyola Marymount into a powerhouse, and he does so without diminishing the role of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble in the team's success."—Fred Barnes, Wall Street Journal

“Having a former English teacher as my coach in the NBA was an unbelievable dream come true. We never got to exchanging sonnets, but the friendship and world championship we gained were absolutely worth the effort. I’m sure his accounts of his time with the NBA will be rewarding for hoop fans and all of us book worms.”—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

“Paul Westhead is a fastbreak savant. That has been conclusively proven in numerous coaching situations. More important, he is a highly principled and extremely talented basketball coach, and unfailingly loyal to his players, fellow coaches, and his beloved system. His journey from the City of Brotherly Love to NBA and WNBA championships and NCAA women’s and men’s scoring records is a wonderful, insightful, and entertaining read.”—P. J. Carlesimo, ESPN basketball analyst and former NBA coach of the Portland Trailblazers, the Golden State Warriors, and the Seattle Supersonics

"The Speed Game is Paul Westhead’s personal account of how he tried to revolutionize basketball through fast breaks on offense and full-court pressure on defense, with the goal of wearing out the opposition while scoring more points. The book is quite engaging, and the reader becomes engrossed in Westhead’s adventures."—Karen Guenther, H-Pennsylvania

“‘The great ones all have a screw loose.’ That’s what Stanford’s legendary basketball coach Tara VanDerveer once told me. Paul Westhead has a screw loose. His unique vision for basketball, and his dedication to his beliefs, against all odds, makes him a great one. This book is the diary of a mad scientist. It is a love story with amazing tales and anecdotes. Paul is the kind of whack job that makes basketball the deepest and most theatrical sport of all. His book enriches basketball lore.”—Scott Ostler, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle

"His memoir is both proud and self-effacing, candid and evasive, an artful nod to Shakespearean comedy and tragedy."—Steve Marantz, New York Journal of Books

"The reader will gain great insight into Westhead's coaching philosophy and why he believes the fast break system is the best basketball system despite the skepticism of many and also his occasional lack of success with it, as evidenced by his poor record with the Nuggets.  If one was or is a fan of his style, then this book is one to read."—Guy Who Reviews Sports Books

"A fun—and fast—read."—J. Kemper Campbell, Lincoln Journal Star

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