Butch van Breda Kolff dies; led Lakers to two Finals

Updated: August 24, 2007, 10:29 AM ET
Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Butch van Breda Kolff, who coached the Los Angeles Lakers to two NBA finals appearances and won 482 games as a college coach, has died after a long illness. He was 84.

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Van Breda Kolff died Wednesday afternoon at a nursing home in Spokane, his daughter, Kristina van Breda Kolff, said. His son, Jan, also played professionally and coached at Cornell, Vanderbilt, Pepperdine and St. Bonaventure.

Butch van Breda Kolff posted a 482-272 coaching record in 28 college seasons, and was 287-316 in 10 seasons as an NBA and ABA coach. He took six teams to the NCAA tournament at a time when tournament berths were much more scarce, and won seven conference titles.

Willem Hendrik van Breda Kolff was born Oct. 28, 1922, in Montclair, N.J. He attended Princeton University, but his college career was interrupted by duty with the Marines in World War II.

He returned from the war to become captain of Princeton's basketball team in the 1946-47 season. He played professionally for the New York Knicks from 1946-1950.

Butch Van Breda Kolff
AP PhotoFormer Lakers coach Butch van Breda Kolff lost in both of his NBA Finals appearances.
Van Breda Kolff began his coaching career at Lafayette College from 1951-55, and also coached there from 1984-88. He coached Hofstra from 1955-62, and also from 1988-94. He was coach at Princeton from 1962-67, where one of his players was Bill Bradley. He also coached the University of New Orleans from 1977-79. In the professional ranks, he coached the Los Angeles Lakers from 1967-69, twice taking them to the finals. He also coached the Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns, the Memphis Tams of the ABA, the New Orleans Jazz and the New Orleans Pride of Women's Basketball League.

"Although it was many years ago, and before my ownership of the team, Butch van Breda Kolff was an important part of the Lakers' success during our early years in Los Angeles," Lakers owner Jerry Buss said in a statement issued by the team Thursday. "We're sorry to hear of his passing and would like to send our condolences to his family and friends."

As coach of the Lakers, he posted records of 52-30 and 55-27 with a team that included Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. They lost to the Boston Celtics both times in the finals. He was fired after Chamberlain took himself out of the seventh game of the 1969 finals with an injury. Replacement Mel Counts played so well that van Breda Kolff declined to put Chamberlain back in, but the Lakers ended up losing the title game.

"I am very sorry to hear about the passing of Butch Van Breda Kolff," Baylor, the vice president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Clippers, said in a statement issued Thursday by the team. "We had a very good relationship that extended beyond the court. Butch enjoyed life and he was always fun to be around. He will be missed."

West called van Breda Kolff "a real basketball purist who believed in a team-oriented game."

"I enjoyed playing for him very much," West said in a statement issued by the Lakers. "Not only did I have two of the best seasons of my career while he was our coach, but our team enjoyed a high level of success as well, even though we unfortunately lost to the Celtics in the NBA finals both years.

"I'm saddened to hear that he's passed away and send my deepest sympathies to his family."

Van Breda Kolff was married to Florence. The couple had two other daughters, Karen and Kaatje.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press