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Willem Hendrik "Butch" van Breda Kolff (October 28, 1922 – August 22, 2007) was an American basketball player and coach. Born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, he played college basketball for New York University and later spent four seasons playing for the New York Knicks of the NBA (1946–50). In 1967 he became head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, and guided them to the NBA finals in 1968 and 1969 losing both times to the Boston Celtics. Van Breda Kolff also coached the Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Jazz, compiling an 266-253 record overall.

Beyond the NBA, the coach known as "VBK" and "Bill" by the fans, had two tenures as the men's head basketball coach at both Lafayette College and Hofstra University, in the 1950s-60s and the 1980s-90s as well as a stint at Princeton University in the 1960s. At Princeton, he coached the 1964–65 Tigers, led by Bill Bradley, to the NCAA Final Four, where they finished third.

Biography

After putting in four undistinguished years as an NBA player during the late 1940s, Butch van Breda Kolff carved out a legendary career as a college and professional coach. He is one of only four men to have coached both an NCAA Final Four team (Princeton, 1965) and an NBA Finals squad (the Los Angeles Lakers, 1968 and 1969). (The others are Larry Brown, Jack Ramsay, and Fred Schaus.) Van Breda Kolff compiled a professional and collegiate coaching record of 769-588.

He also spent time running a women’s professional team and later coached a high school squad in Picayune, Mississippi. “Coaching is coaching,” he once told a reporter. “Give me 10 players who want to work and learn the game and I’m happy. I don’t count the house.”

Born in 1922, van Breda Kolff learned his basketball while growing up in Montclair, New Jersey. He later attended Princeton, where he played basketball for Franklin “Cappy” Cappon, and then to New York University. Signed by the New York Knicks of the Basketball Association of America just after World War II, he turned in a relatively unimpressive tenure as a professional player. In the four years he played in the BAA and the NBA, all with New York, he shot just .305 from the field, .669 from the line, and averaged 4.7 points in 175 contests. More impressive was his hustle and tenacious spirit, which got him elected team captain.

Within two years of leaving the NBA in 1950, van Breda Kolff took over as head coach at Lafayette, where he remained from 1952 to 1956. He then coached for Hofstra from 1955 to 1962, and Princeton from 1963 to 1967.

His success in college attracted the attention of the NBA. The Lakers hired him in 1968, and in his first season guided the team to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Boston Celtics in six games. In his second campaign there, his team—with Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Wilt Chamberlain—notched a 55-27 record and reached the Finals again. It was that championship series that left the most bitter coaching memory in van Breda Kolff’s mind. He took tremendous flak for benching Chamberlain, with whom van Breda Kolff feuded terribly, in the final minutes of the seventh game against Boston. The Lakers lost by two points, and van Breda Kolff resigned shortly afterward.

He then went on to Detroit, where he coached the Pistons for just over two seasons. In 1970–71 he guided the team to a 45-37 mark, Detroit’s first winning season in 15 years. But he left the team 10 games into the next season. He coached the Phoenix Suns for the first seven games of the 1972–73 campaign, then did a stint with Memphis of the American Basketball Association in 1973–74. From 1974 to 1977 he coached the New Orleans Jazz, taking over in the middle of the 1974–75 season and departing with a 14-12 record partway through the 1976–77 campaign. While in New Orleans, he also coached a women’s professional squad. He left the professional ranks for good in 1976, taking with him a career NBA coaching record of 266-253 and a .513 winning percentage. 1976 also marked the year his son Jan entered the NBA with the New York Nets, after spending two seasons in the ABA.

An uncompromising, straightforward, no-nonsense man with a big heart and a pinch of wry humor, van Breda Kolff often clashed with other strong egos. But his love of the game was beyond question. After leaving the Jazz, he remained in the Crescent City and returned to the college coaching ranks with the University of New Orleans, where he spent two years. In 1985, Lafayette, the team he had coached 30 years earlier, asked him to return to work more of his magic there. Van Breda Kolff stayed four seasons at Lafayette, before leaving to coach Hofstra once again. His second stint with the Flying Dutchmen lasted five seasons and ended after the 1993–94 season. In 28 years as a college coach, he compiled an impressive 482-272 record.

As long as he was in contact with basketball, van Breda Kolff was happy, for the sport was as essential to him as air or water. “All I know is life isn’t much different than that game on the court,” he said in an article in the New York Daily News in the early 1980s. “If it’s run right—with precision, with good, honest effort—it’s a thing of beauty. I know what it looks like and that’s what keeps me going.”

Van Breda Kolff died August 22, 2007 at a nursing home in Spokane, Washington after a long illness.[1]

External links

References

Preceded by
Fred Schaus
Los Angeles Lakers head coach
1967–1969
Succeeded by
Joe Mullaney
Preceded by
Paul Seymour
Detroit Pistons head coach
1969–1971
Succeeded by
Terry Dischinger
Preceded by
Cotton Fitzsimmons
Phoenix Suns Head Coach
1972
Succeeded by
Jerry Colangelo
Preceded by
Bob Bass
Memphis Tams Head Coach
1973–1974
Succeeded by
Joe Mullaney
Preceded by
Elgin Baylor (interim)
New Orleans Jazz Head Coach
1974–1976
Succeeded by
Elgin Baylor







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