Bill Fitch, who coached the Celtics to the 1981 NBA title, has died aged 89

Bill Fitch, whose 25-year career as NBA head coach ended in the 1990s with a four-year stint at the helm of the Clippers, died Wednesday at the age of 89, the National Basketball Coaches Assn. Confirmed.

Fitch was NBA Coach of the Year in 1976 and 1980 and won an NBA championship as a coach in Boston in 1981. In 2019 he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Indiana’s coach Rick Carlisle, president of the NBCA, who began his coaching career under Fitch, announced Fitch’s death in a statement Wednesday.

“He died peacefully surrounded by his loving family in Lake Conroe, Texas,” Carlisle said.

The Clippers hired Fitch in 1994. After a 17-65 first season, the team went 29-53 and 36-46 in the next two, including a playoff berth in 1997 – the franchise’s only postseason appearance between 1993 and 2005. In its In the last season the Clippers went 17-65 in 1997/98.

Fitch, whose father, Doc, was a former Navy drill instructor, was known for putting working candidates through grueling workouts to test how they fatigued, and he trained with a disciplinarian’s streak.

“I’ve often had great players who I didn’t expect would like me, and some of them became great players because they didn’t like me and I wouldn’t let them like me,” Fitch told The Times 1994.

John Lucas, the former Houston star who went on to become a longtime NBA coach, said in 1994 that he was forever grateful to Fitch and said the coach “saved my life” by beating him in Houston in 1984 for Lucas’s cocaine addiction cut, back then He was only re-signed after completing rehab a year later.

“He taught me more about life and living under the conditions of life as a coach than anyone I’ve dealt with before,” Lucas said in 1994.

Kobe Bryant was a prospect during a practice session at the former sports arena in 1996, passing Fitch’s difficult test.

Bill Fitch reacts after the Boston Celtics defeated the Philadelphia 76ers and won the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals.

Bill Fitch beamed as he left the field after the Boston Celtics defeated the Philadelphia 76ers to win the Eastern Conference Finals in 1981.

(Associated Press)

“He worked hard at his game,” Fitch recalled in 2020.

In a “long conversation” with Bryant afterward, Fitch told the high school prospect and future Hall of Famer inductee that he had reservations about calling up Bryant, in part because the Clippers were trying to make a playoff push and they already had multiple keepers had, a situation that boded ill for giving a player who was leaving high school a lot of opportunities.

As Fitch told The Times in 2020 after Bryant’s death, he told Bryant he had concerns about bringing such a young player into an organization run by former owner Donald Sterling.

“He knew the Clippers needed a lot of help and a lot of things, including property,” Fitch said. “We’ve had a lot of long conversations about what he should do and where he should go and I said, ‘I can take you and you can play 48 minutes a game with everyone I have here, but it’s not going to be career, that I want for you.’

“He benefited from our not taking him and money wise he probably pulled in more than he would have gotten from Donald Sterling. I didn’t want him to have to go through all the things we went through there.”

Fitch coached at college in North Dakota, Bowling Green and Minnesota before joining the NBA in 1970 with Cleveland. He later coached Boston, Houston, New Jersey and the Clippers in a career that ended with a 944-1,106 record, including 55-54 in the postseason. Under Fitch, the Rockets won the 1986 Western Conference championship. Bill Fitch, who coached the Celtics to the 1981 NBA title, has died aged 89

Caroline Bleakley

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