Laker Coach Phil Jackson underwent an angioplasty to unblock an artery in his heart Saturday, the day before a crucial Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs.
As the Lakers try for a fourth consecutive NBA championship, the procedure marks another turn in a tumultuous season that included the death of the team's legendary broadcaster, player injuries and inconsistency.
Jackson remained in the hospital overnight, and his doctors have scheduled a news conference this morning at Centinela Hospital Medical Center, where the coach underwent the two-hour procedure after tests revealed a blockage of more than 90% in his left anterior descending artery.
A decision on whether Jackson will coach today's game will be made this morning.
Jackson, 57, who had quietly complained for several days of feeling a tightness in his chest, coached the Lakers to a victory over the Spurs at Staples Center on Friday after leaving the hospital before his heart tests were complete.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday May 12, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Laker coach -- In some copies Sunday, an article that appeared on A1 about Laker Coach Phil Jackson undergoing an angioplasty misspelled the last name of Assistant Coach Tex Winter as Winters.
During Friday's tension-packed game -- with actor Jack Nicholson challenging an official from his courtside seat and assistant coach Tex Winter caught up in the emotion -- Jackson at one point turned to Winter and said, "Tex, calm down. You're going to give me a heart attack."
The illness of Jackson -- one of the winningest coaches in NBA playoff history -- was the latest in a series of misfortunes that beset the Lakers, starting with the August death of longtime broadcaster Chick Hearn and toe surgery for center Shaquille O'Neal.
The Lakers sputtered to an 11-19 start, leading some fans to despair of winning a title this year. Los Angeles reached the playoffs as only the fifth-seeded team in the Western Conference; then starting forward Rick Fox injured his ankle in the first round -- and ended his season.
The Spurs lead the Western Conference semifinals, two games to one.
If Jackson cannot coach today, the team will look to assistant coach Jim Cleamons, who took over for three games in February when Jackson was sidelined by kidney stones. The team won games against the Clippers and the Detroit Pistons but lost to the Seattle SuperSonics.
Jackson's angioplasty was performed by Drs. Phillip Frankel and Vern Hattori.
Angioplasty is quickly becoming the most common way to open blocked arteries because it is faster and safer than coronary artery bypass and patients recover more quickly.
During the procedure, done under light anesthesia, a catheter is inserted into the femoral artery through a puncture in the groin and threaded up to the heart using a fluoroscope for guidance. A doctor then inserts a contrast agent or dye through the catheter, allowing physicians to view the arteries and determine the extent of the blockage.
If a blockage is discovered, doctors insert a small balloon to the site, which is expanded to compress the plaque into the walls of the artery. Patients usually are required to lie on their backs for about six hours afterward.
When they leave, they are cautioned against engaging in heavy physical activities.
Physically, Jackson could coach, although this situation is "absolutely unique," said Gerald Bresnahan, a Centinela cardiologist who was not involved in Jackson's procedure.
"He'll need to follow a balanced and low-fat, low-cholesterol type of diet," Bresnahan said. "He's going to be on some medication that helps keep the area open and keeps it from clotting. Barring any post-op complications, he should be able to travel to San Antonio" for Game 5 of the series Tuesday.
Jackson has coached nine championship teams to tie former Boston Celtics Coach Red Auerbach for the most in NBA history. Jackson coached the Chicago Bulls to six championships in nine years before joining the Lakers in 1999.
"If he wakes up Sunday and can't coach, then I'll carry the baton," Cleamons said Saturday. " I hope he does come back. He is the head coach. You hold those reins, you know your horses best.
"If I have to coach, I'll do the best I can, and I know Tex will be in my ear. But you never want to break the continuity."
Cleamons said Jackson, who had no history of heart problems, had confided in him earlier in the week.
"We realized he was not feeling 100%," Cleamons said. "But we didn't realize what the problems were. Then he told me he had a tightness in his chest and he was losing his voice. He thought maybe he was yelling too much, but he doesn't yell."
At Friday night's game, Cleamons said, "you could tell he wasn't his usual self. He didn't have a lot of energy."
Jackson's coaches and players learned of his condition at Saturday's practice at the team's HealthSouth Training Center in El Segundo. Reporters were not informed of the procedure until after player interviews were finished.
Guard Derek Fisher said he was not surprised that Jackson kept his illness from the players as long as possible. "He would never let it affect the group," Fisher said. "Our wishes, hopes and prayers are with him."
Asked whether Jackson's illness might serve to further motivate the team, Fisher replied:
"I don't know if we need anything else. It's been an amazing nine months, from Chick's death to now. But we are still in a position to win."
While the Lakers were wondering whether they would have Jackson to coach them through the series, Dallas Coach Don Nelson showed up in Sacramento for the Mavericks-Kings playoff game Saturday night wearing a light purple shirt and a dark purple tie, Associated Press reported. Asked about the garb, Nelson replied they were Lakers colors "in reverence for Phil."
Times staff writers Thomas H. Maugh II and Jean Merl contributed to this report.