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Cotton Fitzsimmons
Sport Basketball
Born October 7, 1931(1931-10-07)
Place of birth Hannibal, Missouri
Died July 24, 2004 (aged 72)
Place of death Phoenix, Arizona
Career highlights
Overall 223-59 (.791)
Championships
Two national junior college championships
Big 8 Championship (1970)
Playing career
1953-1956 Midwestern State University
Position Guard
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1958-1967
1968-1970
Moberly Junior College
Kansas State

Lowell "Cotton" Fitzsimmons (October 7, 1931 – July 24, 2004) was a college and NBA basketball coach. A native of Hannibal, Missouri, USA, he attended and played basketball at Hannibal-LaGrange Junior College in Hannibal and Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. He coached the Phoenix Suns three times, and is often credited as the architect of the Suns' success of the late 1980s and early to middle 1990s.

Contents

Biography

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Early life and career

He got his first coaching job at Moberly Junior College in 1956. He coached there eleven years, capping his tenure with two national junior college championships (NJCAA), in 1966 and 1967. In 1968, Fitzsimmons was hired by Kansas State University, where he served as head basketball coach for only two seasons before going into the NBA.

First stint with the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks, Buffalo Braves and San Antonio Spurs

In 1970, Fitzsimmons replaced Jerry Colangelo as Suns coach. He took the team to their first winning season, going 48-34 that season.

In 1972, Fitzsimmons went on to coach the Atlanta Hawks. He would return to Phoenix in 1975, to become a permanent resident, although he still coached the Hawks. According to Fitzsimmons, one of the main reasons he accepted a job as Hawks coach was the opportunity to coach Pete Maravich. In 1976, he became the player personnel director for the 1975 NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

In 1977, Cotton Fitzsimmons was hired as head coach by the Buffalo Braves. He lasted there one season, being hired by the Kansas City Kings to be their head coach for the next season. With the Kings, he won the NBA "Coach of the Year" award in 1979.

In 1984, his profession took him to San Antonio, Texas, where he was head coach of the Spurs. One year later, in 1985, he was inducted into the National Junior College Hall of Fame.

Second stint with the Suns

Further honors came in 1988, when he was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. He also returned to the Suns organization that year, becoming one of the driving forces behind the trade that sent Larry Nance to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kevin Johnson, Mark West and a future first round draft pick.

Cotton Fitzsimmons was criticized both by Suns fans and basketball critics after the trade; Nance was very popular in Phoenix. But the Suns had come off a chaotic 1987–1988 season in which they only won 28 games and lost 54, and the team had been shaken by a drug scandal. [1] With the first round draft pick of 1988, the Suns chose Dan Majerle, and the franchise had a turn-around season, winning 55 games and losing 27 before advancing all the way to the Western Conference's Finals that season, where they were swept by the Lakers.

In 1989, he won his second NBA Coach of the Year Award.

After another successful season, the Suns returned to the NBA Playoffs in 1990. This time around, they returned the favor on the Lakers, beating them 4 games to 1 at the Western Conference's Semi-Finals, but once again, Fitzsimmons' team fell short at the NBA's Western Conference Finals, losing to the Portland Trail Blazers, 4 games to 2.

In 1991, the Suns lost to the Utah Jazz at the Western Conference Playoffs' first round, 3 games to 1. During the rest of the playoffs, Fitzsimmons served briefly as a color commentator for the NBA on NBC, most notably, alongside Marv Albert for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons. In 1992, Cotton Fitzsimmons became only the sixth coach in NBA history to reach 800 wins. After losing to the Trail Blazers at that year's Western Conference Semi-Finals, 4 games to 1, Fitzsimmons retired as coach, to work as Suns senior executive vice-president. By then a long time friend of Colangelo, he helped Colangelo decide to trade Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry for Charles Barkley, while also helping with the decision of signing free agent Danny Ainge. He also did television commentary, joining Al McCoy for Suns broadcasts.

Third stint with the Suns

In 1996, he returned to the Suns as head coach for the third time, helping the Suns reach the NBA Playoffs, where they lost to the Spurs, 3 games to 1.

The 1996-1997 Suns lost their first eight games, and Fitzsimmons resigned as head coach of the Suns. At the moment of his retirement, he had 832 wins and 775 losses, making him the eighth winningest coach in NBA history. He has since slipped to number ten in the all-time winning list as an NBA coach.

Death

Fitzsimmons was diagnosed with lung cancer later on in life. His family chose to keep his health status private. Months after being diagnosed with cancer, his condition worsened because of a brain stroke. He suffered two more brain strokes before it was finally revealed to the public that he was in serious condition at a local hospital.

On July 25, 2004 the morning after his passing, the Arizona Republic's sports section's headline read: "Brightest Sun Fitzsimmons dies." [2]

Fitzsimmons was very popular among Suns fans and in the Suns organization. In Phoenix, his car would often be stopped by autograph seeking fans, to which, in most times, he obliged to sign.

External links

Preceded by
Tex Winter
Kansas State men's basketball head coach
1968–1970
Succeeded by
Jack Hartman
Preceded by
Jerry Colangelo
Phoenix Suns Head Coach
1970–1972
Succeeded by
Butch van Breda Kolff
Preceded by
Richie Guerin
Atlanta Hawks Head Coach
1972–1976
Succeeded by
Bumper Tormohlen
Preceded by
Joe Mullaney
Buffalo Braves Head Coach
1977–1978
Succeeded by
Gene Shue
Preceded by
Larry Staverman
Kansas City Kings Head Coach
1978–1984
Succeeded by
Jack McKinney
Preceded by
Bob Bass
San Antonio Spurs Head Coach
1984–1986
Succeeded by
Bob Weiss
Preceded by
John Wetzel
Phoenix Suns Head Coach
1988–1992
Succeeded by
Paul Westphal
Preceded by
Paul Westphal
Phoenix Suns Head Coach
1996
Succeeded by
Danny Ainge

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