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Thursday, February 03, 2022

A Tribute to Hall of Fame Coach Bill Fitch

Bill Fitch, who coached the Boston Celtics to the first championship of the Larry Bird-Kevin McHale-Robert Parish era, passed away yesterday at the age of 89. Fitch led the Houston Rockets to the 1986 NBA Finals--where they lost to the Celtics as the Celtics won their third and final title of the Bird-McHale-Parish era--but despite those two NBA Finals runs he may be best known as a coach who could quickly build a bad team into a playoff team. Fitch did that for the first time with the Cleveland Cavaliers, guiding the team from a 15-67 record in its first season of existence (1970-71) to a 49-33 record and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance just five years later. Fitch won the first of his two NBA Coach of the Year awards in 1976.

After Fitch left Cleveland in 1979, he took the reins of a Boston team that had gone 29-53 in the season before the arrival of Larry Bird. Bird is often given the bulk of the credit for Boston improving to 61-21, but Fitch's coaching played an important role as well, as demonstrated by his track record of quickly turning teams around even when he did not have an all-time great like Bird on the roster. Fitch won his second Coach of the Year award in 1980. In four seasons with the Celtics, Fitch's squads won one championship and reached the Eastern Conference Finals three times. Fitch resigned in 1983. K.C. Jones, an assistant on Fitch's staff, succeeded Fitch and won two championships as Boston's coach (1984, 1986). I interviewed Jones, who passed away on December 25, 2020, in 2004 and he expressed great respect for Fitch.

Fitch next coached the Houston Rockets from 1983-88, inheriting a non-playoff team that he led to the playoffs for four straight seasons. Then, Fitch went to New Jersey, and helped the Nets improve from 26-56 the season before he arrived to 40-42 and a playoff appearance three years later. In his final NBA head coaching job, Fitch performed a similar revival with the L.A. Clippers, leading them to the 1997 playoffs, but he was fired after the Clippers regressed in 1998. The Clippers went through five coaches in nine years before reaching the playoffs again.  

Fitch was dubbed "Captain Video" early in his career because of how much videotape he watched in his constant search for the slightest edge. He once said that he did not mind being teased about that, because he considered it an advantage that he watched more footage than anyone else did.

Fitch was inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019. In 1996, the NBA famously selected its 50 Greatest Players List but as part of that 50tth anniversary celebration the league also honored its 10 Greatest Coaches, and Fitch was on that prestigious list.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:39 PM



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