Butch van Breda Kolff

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

Butch van Breda Kolff
Biographical details
Born(1922-10-28)October 28, 1922
Glen Ridge, New Jersey
DiedAugust 22, 2007(2007-08-22) (aged 84)
Spokane, Washington
Playing career
1946–1950New York Knicks
Position(s)Shooting guard
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1967–1969Los Angeles Lakers
1969–1972Detroit Pistons
1972–1973Phoenix Suns
1973–1974Memphis Tams
1974–1977New Orleans Jazz
1977–1979New Orleans
1979–1981New Orleans Pride
Head coaching record
Overall482–272 (college basketball)
287–316 (NBA/ABA regular season)
1–23 (college lacrosse)
Tournaments7–5 (NCAA University Division)
2–2 (NCAA College Division)
0–1 (NIT)
21–12 (NBA playoffs)
Accomplishments and honors
Middle Three regular season (1952)
4 Ivy regular season (1963–1965, 1967)
Sun Belt Tournament (1978)
ECC regular season (1988)
ECC Tournament (1994)


Early life and career

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 some of the better teams of the National Basketball League to form the National Basketball Association in (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.[1] "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

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. With backup center Mel Counts in the game, the Lakers cut a seven-point 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

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

Van Breda Kolff died August 22, 2007 at a nursing home in Spokane, Washington after a long illness.[2]

"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

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

Regular season

Year Team GP FG% FT% APG PPG
1946–47 New York 16.206.647.41.6
1947–48 New York 44.276.617.74.1
1948–49 New York 59.317.6712.47.0
1949–50 New York 56.329.7161.43.7
Career 175.305.6691.54.7


Year Team GP FG% FT% APG PPG
1947 New York 5.219.538.84.2
1948 New York 3.375.714.77.3
1949 New York 6.375.8261.28.2
1950 New York
Career 15.318.720.96.1

Head coaching record

College basketball

Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Lafayette Leopards (Middle Three Conference) (1951–1955)
1951–52 Lafayette 15–91st
1952–53 Lafayette 13–12
1953–54 Lafayette 17–10
1954–55 Lafayette 23–3NIT First Round
Hofstra Flying Dutchmen (Middle Atlantic Conference) (1955–1962)
1955–56 Hofstra 22–4NCAA College Division Regional Runner-up
1956–57 Hofstra 11–15
1957–58 Hofstra 15–8
1958–59 Hofstra 20–7
1959–60 Hofstra 23–1
1960–61 Hofstra 21–4
1961–62 Hofstra 24–4NCAA College Division Regional Runner-up
Princeton Tigers (Ivy League) (1962–1967)
1962–63 Princeton 19–611–3T–1stNCAA University Division First Round
1963–64 Princeton 20–912–21stNCAA University Division Regional Fourth Place
1964–65 Princeton 23–613–11stNCAA University Division Third Place
1965–66 Princeton 16–79–54th
1966–67 Princeton 25–313–11stNCAA University Division Regional Third Place
Princeton: 103–3158–12
New Orleans Privateers (Sun Belt Conference) (1977–1979)
1977–78 New Orleans 21–68–22nd
1978–79 New Orleans 11–163–75th
New Orleans: 32–2211–9
Lafayette Leopards (East Coast Conference) (1984–1988)
1984–85 Lafayette 15–13
1985–86 Lafayette 14–15
1986–87 Lafayette 16–13
1987–88 Lafayette 19–101st
Lafayette: 132–85
Hofstra Flying Dutchmen (East Coast Conference) (1988–1994)
1988–89 Hofstra 14–15
1989–90 Hofstra 13–15
1990–91 Hofstra 14–14
1991–92 Hofstra 20–9
1992–93 Hofstra 9–18
1993–94 Hofstra 9–20
Hofstra: 215–134

      National champion         Postseason invitational champion  
      Conference regular season champion         Conference regular season and conference tournament champion
      Division regular season champion       Division regular season and conference tournament champion
      Conference tournament champion


Regular season G Games coached W Games won L Games lost W–L % Win–loss %
Playoffs PG Playoff games PW Playoff wins PL Playoff losses PW–L % Playoff win–loss %
Team Year G W L WL% Finish PG PW PL PWL% Result
Los Angeles 1967–68 825230.6342nd in Western15105.667 Lost in NBA Finals
Los Angeles 1968–69 825527.6711st in Western18117.611 Lost in NBA Finals
Detroit 1969–70 823151.3787th in Eastern Missed Playoffs
Detroit 1970–71 824537.5494th in Midwest Missed Playoffs
Detroit 1971–72 1064.600(resigned)
Phoenix 1972–73 734.429(fired)
Memphis* 1973–74 842163.2504th in Eastern Missed Playoffs
New Orleans 1974–75 662244.3335th in Central Missed Playoffs
New Orleans 1975–76 823844.4634th in Central Missed Playoffs
New Orleans 1976–77 261412.538(fired)
Career 603287316.476332112.636

See also


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