Feb. 3 (UPI) — Basketball Hall of Fame coach Bill Fitch, who mentored some of the NBA’s biggest stars and helped lead Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics to an NBA championship in 1981, died Wednesday at the age of 89.
The NBA announced the death of Fitch on Thursday. Fitch’s daughter, Marcy Ann Coville, told Indiana Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle that her father was surrounded by family when he died in Lake Conroe, Texas. The cause of death wasn’t immediately known.
“The NBA mourns the passing of Hall of Fame coach Bill Fitch, an NBA champion with the Boston Celtics and a two-time Coach of the Year,” the league wrote on Twitter. “Bill served 25 seasons as an NBA head coach and mentored countless players and coaches. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and friends.”
The NBA mourns the passing of Hall of Fame coach Bill Fitch, an NBA champion with the Boston Celtics and a two-time Coach of the Year. Bill served 25 seasons as an NBA head coach and mentored countless players and coaches. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and friends. pic.twitter.com/39TOkCTOwQ— NBA (@NBA) February 3, 2022
Fitch, a two-time NBA Coach of the Year, was named to the NBA’s Top 10 Coaches of All-Time list when the league celebrated its 50 greatest players during its 50th anniversary. Fitch was 10th on the all-time wins list among NBA coaches until Doc Rivers passed him in December 2020.
During his 25 years as a head coach in the NBA, Fitch helped revitalize multiple franchises. He coached the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and Celtics.
He started his NBA coaching career as the first head coach of the expansion Cavaliers in 1970, guiding them to season three times after winning just 15 games in their inaugural season.
Fitch became coach of the Celtics in the 1979-80 campaign, just after Boston drafted an eventual all-time great in Bird. In their first season together, Fitch, Bird and the Celtics posted a 61-21 record and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“Fitch’s deep knowledge of the game, toughness, and dry wit made him a perfect fit for Boston and the Celtics,” the Celtics said in a news release Thursday. “Fitch had already built a reputation as a turnaround artist, and his ability to get the best out of players paid immediate dividends as Fitch orchestrated what was at the time the best turnaround in NBA history, vaulting to a 61-21 record.
“The Celtics family mourns his loss as we celebrate his legacy.”
After gaining Robert Parish and rookie Kevin McHale in the off-season, Fitch led the Celtics to 62 wins and a series victory over the Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals for Bird’s first title and Fitch’s lone championship.
Fitch joined the Rockets in 1983-84 after his four winning seasons in Boston. He led Hakeem Olajuwon and Houston to the NBA Finals in 1985-86, losing to the Celtics.
He then joined the Nets and won just 17 games during his first season in 1989-90, but he eventually guided the team to 40 wins and a spot in the 1992 playoffs.
Fitch’s final NBA coaching stop came with the Clippers. He won 17 games in his first season with the team in 1994-95, but he later helped the franchise reach the playoffs in 1996-97.
Fitch, who ended his career with a 944-1,106 record, was elected to the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.
Cheslie Kryst arrives at the premiere of “Like A Boss” at SVA Theater in New York City on January 7, 2020. Kryst, the 2019 winner of the Miss USA pageant, died January 30, 2022 at age 30. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
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