After over 50 years in the NBA, Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Bill Bertka will be honored with the Tex Winter Assistant Coach Lifetime Impact Award, the National Basketball Coaches Association announced on Wednesday.
Bertka got his start in the NBA with the Lakers in 1968 as a scout, but he didn’t get his first shot as an assistant coach until 1977, when Elgin Baylor hired him onto his coaching staff with the New Orleans Jazz. Prior to that, Bertka served as the team’s general manager for a brief stint.
Bertka spent seven seasons with the Jazz from 1974 to 1981. Then, in 1981 when Pat Riley was named the head coach of the Lakers, Bertka returned to Los Angeles where he’s stayed ever since. In fact, this upcoming season will be Bertka’s 38th consecutive season with the Lakers.
During the nearly four decades he’s been with the team, he’s served as an assistant under eight different Lakers head coaches including Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. Between Riley and Jackson, Bertka has nine championships under his belt.
These days, the 91-year-old NBA lifer is serving as a scout for the Lakers. Bertka’s most recent claim to fame was putting Kyle Kuzma on the team’s radar ahead of the 2017 NBA Draft. Here’s what assistant general manager Jesse Buss told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN about Bertka’s admiration for Kuzma:
So when Bertka burst into the Lakers’ scouting meetings this spring, raving about some kid from Utah he’d scouted during the Pac-12 Conference tournament, everyone in the room took note.
“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss recalls. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f--- I’m looking at.’”
It turns out Bertka knew what he was talking about, because Kuzma exceeded expectations in his first season with the Lakers and went on to make the All-Rookie First Team despite being the No. 27 pick in the draft.
It may be long overdue, but Bertka is finally getting some recognition for all he’s given back to the game, and the Lakers are lucky he’s on their side.