Butch van Breda Kolff

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Butch van Breda Kolff
Sport(s) Basketball
Biographical details
Born (1922-10-28)October 28, 1922
Glen Ridge, New Jersey
Died August 22, 2007(2007-08-22) (aged 84)
Spokane, Washington
Playing career
1942–1943 Princeton
1946–1950 New York Knicks
Position(s) Shooting guard
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1951–1955 Lafayette
1955–1962 Hofstra
1962–1967 Princeton
1967–1969 Los Angeles Lakers
1969–1972 Detroit Pistons
1972–1973 Phoenix Suns
1973–1974 Memphis Tams
1974–1977 New Orleans Jazz
1977–1979 University of New Orleans
1979–1981 New Orleans Pride
1984–1988 Lafayette
1988–1994 Hofstra
Head coaching record
Overall NBA: 266-253 (.518)
ABA: 21-63 (.250)[1]

Willem Hendrik "Butch" van Breda Kolff (October 28, 1922 – August 22, 2007) was an American basketball player and coach.


Early life and career[edit]

Born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, van Breda Kolff gained an affection for basketball while growing up in Montclair. He attended The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He then attended Princeton University, where he played basketball for Franklin "Cappy" Cappon, and New York University, where he also played basketball.

Signed by the New York Knicks in 1946, he spent four seasons playing as a professional. The New York Knicks played in the Basketball Association of America (BAA), which merged with the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1949. In the four years (1946–50) van Breda Kolff played in the BAA and the NBA, he turned in a relatively unimpressive performance, shooting just .305 from the field, .669 from the line, and averaging 4.7 points in 175 contests. He was elected team captain of the Knicks.

After leaving the NBA in 1950, van Breda Kolff began a coaching career. He took over as head coach at Lafayette College, where he remained from 1951 to 1955. He then coached for Hofstra University from 1955 to 1962, and Princeton from 1962 to 1967. He is one of 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 also spent time running a women's professional team and later coached a high school team in Picayune, Mississippi.[2] "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."

Pro coaching career[edit]

Van Breda Kolff's success in college attracted the attention of the NBA. The Lakers hired him in 1967, 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 for the Lakers, his team — with Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Wilt Chamberlain — notched a 55-27 record and reached the Finals again, but Van Breda Kolff and Chamberlain did not get along at all (the coach thought his star center was spoiled and openly favored Baylor and West over him, while Chamberlain viewed his coach as a loser and barely tolerated him). Van Breda Kolff took tremendous flak for not allowing Chamberlain back in the game for the final minutes of game 7 of the NBA finals against Boston. Chamberlain picked up his fifth foul midway through the fourth quarter, and shortly thereafter asked out of the game with knee pain (this was the same knee Chamberlain severely injured at the beginning of the following season). With backup center Mel Counts in the game, the Lakers cut a double digit deficit to two points. Chamberlain then motioned to Van Breda Kolff that he was ready to go back in the game, to which Van Breda Kolff told him "sit your big ass down" and "we don't need you." The Lakers lost by two points, and van Breda Kolff resigned before he could be fired by Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke. Game 7 marked the last time he would coach an NBA team in a postseason game.

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 fifteen years. He left the team ten games into the next season, stating in a 1984 Sports Illustrated article that he quit after being cursed at repeatedly by frustrated fans. Van Breda Kolff coached the Phoenix Suns for the first seven games of the 1972–73 campaign before being fired and replaced by Jerry Colangelo. He 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 season.

While he was coach, he pushed for New Orleans to relinquish the rights to Moses Malone in exchange for a #1 draft pick, and then traded that pick and two other #1s to the Lakers for Gail Goodrich. This turned out to be one of the worst decisions in NBA history, not only because Malone became a superstar but because Goodrich suffered an Achilles' tendon injury that would end his career in 1978. The Jazz's #1 pick in 1979 (the first overall choice) was used by the Lakers to select Magic Johnson.

While in New Orleans, he also coached the New Orleans Pride, 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; he coached one game against his son's team.

Coaching style[edit]

Van Breda Kolff often clashed with other strong egos. After leaving the Jazz, he remained in New Orleans 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. 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 a 482-272 record.

Death and legacy[edit]

Van Breda Kolff died August 22, 2007 at a nursing home in Spokane, Washington after a long illness.[3]

"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."

His son Jan van Breda Kolff was also a basketball player and coach.

BAA/NBA career statistics[edit]

  GP Games played  FG%  Field-goal percentage
 FT%  Free-throw percentage  APG  Assists per game
 PPG  Points per game  Bold  Career high

Regular season[edit]

Year Team GP FG% FT% APG PPG
1946–47 New York 16 .206 .647 .4 1.6
1947–48 New York 44 .276 .617 .7 4.1
1948–49 New York 59 .317 .671 2.4 7.0
1949–50 New York 56 .329 .716 1.4 3.7
Career 175 .305 .669 1.5 4.7


Year Team GP FG% FT% APG PPG
1947 New York 5 .219 .538 .8 4.2
1948 New York 3 .375 .714 .7 7.3
1949 New York 6 .375 .826 1.2 8.2
1950 New York 1 .000 .000 .0 .0
Career 15 .318 .720 .9 6.1

Head coaching record[edit]

Regular season G Games coached W Games won L Games lost W–L % Win–loss %
Post season PG Playoff games PW Playoff wins PL Playoff losses PW–L % Playoff win–loss %
Team Year G W L W–L% Finish PG PW PL PW–L% Result
Los Angeles 1967–68 82 52 30 .634 2nd in Western 15 10 5 .667 Lost in NBA Finals
Los Angeles 1968–69 82 55 27 .671 1st in Western 18 11 7 .611 Lost in NBA Finals
Detroit 1969–70 82 31 51 .378 7th in Eastern Missed Playoffs
Detroit 1970–71 82 45 37 .549 4th in Midwest Missed Playoffs
Detroit 1971–72 10 6 4 .600 (resigned)
Phoenix 1972–73 7 3 4 .429 (fired)
Memphis* 1973–74 84 21 63 .250 4th in Eastern Missed Playoffs
New Orleans 1974–75 66 22 44 .333 5th in Central Missed Playoffs
New Orleans 1975–76 82 38 44 .463 4th in Central Missed Playoffs
New Orleans 1976–77 26 14 12 .538 (fired)
Career 603 287 316 .476 33 21 12 .636