Bill Fitch, famous for turning the fortunes of bleak NBA teams and leading the Boston Celtics to the 1981 league championship in a 25-season professional coaching career, died Wednesday. at Lake Conroe, Texas, north of Houston. He is 89 years old.
His death was announced by Rick Carlisle, Indiana Pacers coach and president of the NBA Coaches Association, who said he was contacted by Fitch’s daughter Marcy Ann Coville. No other details are provided.
A strong-willed character who preaches unselfish play, Fitch races demanding the practice and affection of even his best players.
“I believe in discipline and I think that is the foundation of world championship teams,” Fitch once said.
He is an innovator in recording games and practices for analyzing his players and their opponents, omitting a moniker that circulated throughout the league during the pre-tech years: Captain Videos.
Fitch is an NBA coach twice a year and was selected as one of the top 10 coaches in league history in 1996-97 marking the 50th anniversary of the NBA’s founding.
He received the National Basketball Coaches Association Award in 2013 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, named for the coach who won two league championships with the Detroit Pistons.
When Kevin McHale coached the Houston Rockets in 2012, he recalled the lessons he had absorbed as a Celtic rookie during Fitch’s sometimes intimidating reign.
McHale told The Houston Chronicle: “Coming out of college, I’ve never met a coach who speaks the way Bill did to you, but he really pushed you on and I think Bill did a great job. good.”
Larry Bird, who joined McHale and Robert Parish on Fitch’s championship Celtic team, told Sports Illustrated in 1997 that Fitch “is the best in terms of motivation, helping you to really facilitate each other.”
However, Bird thinks that Fitch, who stepped down as Celtic coach after four seasons, switching to other teams so often is because “he’s really been challenged by some men after a period of testing.”
Fitch made his NBA coaching debut in Cleveland, which saw his 1970 expansion team the Cavaliers lose their first 15 games.
But in his sixth season, the Cavaliers won the Central Division title, 49-33, and reached the second round of the knockout stages, earning Fitch its first-year Coach of the Year award. .
Fitch was hired as coach of the Celtics in 1979 after they missed the knockout stages for two consecutive seasons. He received his second Coach of the Year award in 1980, when the Celtics, in Bird’s rookie season, 61-21 and reached the second round of the playoffs.
Fitch’s Celtics won the NBA championship next season, beating the Houston Rockets in the six-playoff final, decisive victory coming in Houston. It was Boston’s 14th National Basketball Association championship and their first since 1976.
Taking on the position of coach of the Rockets in 1983 after they had fallen on hard times, Fitch developed the Twin Towers, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, as the core of the team he coached for the finals. NBA 1986, where the Rockets lost to the Celtics in six games.
Fitch took over as coach of the New Jersey Nets in August 1989, succeeding Willis Reed, who became the team’s vice president after the 26-56 season.
The Nets won just 43 games in Fitch’s first two seasons in New Jersey, but he coached them to the knockout stages in 1992, their first post-season appearance in six years, even though they were eliminated right away. from the first round.
Fitch was almost non-existent that season. A minority owner of the Nets wanted to hire Jim Valvano, a former North Carolina State coach, in December 1991. Although that didn’t happen, Fitch had other problems, when he clashed with several players. mine.
He stepped down after that season, then became coach of the failing Los Angeles Clippers in 1994. He never produced a winning team with the Clippers but brought them into the knockout stages in his third season with them.
Billy Charles Fitch was born on May 19, 1934 in Davenport, Iowa and raised in Cedar Rapids. His father, a former Marine sergeant, was a disciplinarian, shaping a trait his son would bring to the basketball court.
“I was 14 years old before I knew I wasn’t in the Marines because I lived as a Marine,” Fitch told The Los Angeles Times in 1994. “I had no one to share my razor strap with. that beard. I’m the only child in the family. ”
Fitch played basketball at Coe College in Cedar Rapids and got his first head coach position there in 1958. He later coached at North Dakota, where Phil Jackson was one of his players. , and then at Bowling Green and Minnesota before receiving the Cavaliers’ early-post training.
He retired from professional coaching after the 1997-98 season with 944 wins and 1,106 losses. He was introduced to Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 2019.
In addition to his daughter Marcy Ann, his survivors have two other daughters, Tammy Fitch and Lisa Fitch.
Fitch remained passionate about the game of basketball long after he quit coaching.
“I never really thought that being known as Captain Video was such a bad thing,” he told the NBA’s website in 2013. “Others can laugh and tease all that. they want. The truth is I’m glad no one else does it because I think it always gives our team a big advantage.”
“If you could see my closet today,” he said, “it was crammed from floor to ceiling with old tapes and now DVDs, and I’m still making movies for those others. I still love competition and strategy.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/03/sports/basketball/bill-fitch-dead.html Bill Fitch, Who Coached Celtics To Championship ’81, Dies at 89