Willem Hendrik (Butch) van Breda Kolff   [1922-2007]

Professional Sports Figure

Butch Van Breda Kolff was basketball personified. He played basketball while at college, then played basketball as a professional in the NBA, then coached basketball at the high school and college levels, and in between coached professional basketball in the National Basketball Association [NBA]. During his entire coaching career, he coached more than 1300 high school, college, and professional basketball games.

Van Breda Kolff was born in Montclair, New Jersey on October 28, 1922. As he grew up, he became fascinated with basketball, although he did not have the physique to likely become successful as a basketball player. He was only 6 foot and 3 inches, and only weighed 185 pounds. During his college age, he initially went to Princeton University, where he became captain of both the basketball and soccer teams, but his lacking academic ability or focus did him in and he flunked out. The New York Knicks of the NBA had followed his basketball career, and signed him up in 1946. He remained with the Knicks for four years, from 1946 to 1950, where his scoring average was 4.7 points per game. While with the Knicks, he apparently had been able to continue his academic studies at New York University, and in 1950 he graduated with a B. A. degree in education.

His college coaching career began, in 1951, when he signed up with Lafayette College. He remained there for four years, and in 1955 he resigned because he claimed the Lafayette college officials did not want to give him a $200 raise. He then was hired by Hofstra University in 1955, and coached the Hofstra Flying Dutchmen for five years, until 1962. His next coaching position was at Princeton University, his alma mater, where he coached from 1962 until 1967. While at Princeton, he coached the legendary and famous Bill Bradley, and led the Princeton Tigers team to the National Collegiate Athletics Association [NCAA] Final Four at the end of the 1964-1965 basketball season. The Princeton Tigers basketball team came in third in the NCAA Final.

Van Breda Kolff’s success with the Princeton team caught the attention of the NBA teams, and in 1967, he began his professional coaching career in the NBA. He coached the Los Angeles Lakers from 1967 to 1969, then moved to the Detroit Pistons where he coached from 1969 to 1972. He then went to the Phoenix Suns where he coached from 1972 to 1973. In 1973 he took an apparent step back or perhaps sideways, and coached the Memphis Tams of the upstart American Basketball Association [ABA]. He remained with the Memphis team for only one year, and in 1974 he returned to the NBA, coaching the NBA’s expansion team, the New Orleans Jazz from 1974 to 1977.

After 11 years of coaching professional NBA teams, Van Breda Kolff left the NBA, either voluntarily or at their implied request. He returned to college level coaching, and signed up to coach the University of New Orleans men’s basketball team from 1977 to 1979. In 1979, he returned to professional basketball, but this time he ended up coaching the New Orleans Pride of the Women’s Professional Basketball League [WPBL], from 1979 to 1981. At the end of the 1981 season, the WPBL folded and Van Breda Kolff was out of work. He had then approached the age of 60, and he apparently had to think about retiring.

Between 1981 and 1984, Van Breda Kolff did a variety of jobs, including some school teaching, and coaching a tenth grade basketball team. But his basketball life was not over yet. In 1984, Lafayette College needed a basketball coach, and Van Breda Kolff nominated himself. He was accepted and was back coaching at Lafayette College. He remained at Lafayette College until 1988. Then an opportunity arose to again coach the Hofstra Flying Dutchmen, his previous college coaching stop quite a number of years before. He coached the Hofstra Flying Dutchmen from 1988 until 1994. By that time he had reached the age of 72, and retirement was imminent.

Van Breda Kolff’s coaching record is quite amazing. Except for a three year interruption when he was in his sixties, he had coached continuously in either the college or professional leagues over a period of 44 years, beginning in 1951 and ending in 1994. To remain active as a coach over that length of time means that he must have been rather successful and he was. During his 28 years of college coaching, his record was 483 wins against 272 losses. His professional league coaching record was a bit weaker, but it was still a winning record. He won 266 games and lost 253 games.

Van Breda Kolff was clearly a happy man coaching basketball for that long a time period. He passed away in Spokane, Washington on August 22, 2007 after a long illness. Van Breda Kolff had four children, three daughters, Karen Young, Kristina and Kaatje, and a son, Jan Van Breda Kolff. Jan became a professional basketball player, first in the ABA, and later in the NBA. He played for 2 seasons in the ABA from 1974 to 1976. During the 1976-1983 season, he played in the NBA for the New Jersey Nets. He had only modest success as a basketball player, but he did manage to remain a professional player for 9 years. He later took up college basketball coaching, and was head coach at Cornell, Vanderbilt, Pepperdine and St. Bonaventure Universities.

 

REFERENCES

Butch van Breda Kolff, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butch_van_Breda_Kolff

Butch van Breda Kolff, Basketball Coach, Is Dead, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/24/sports/basketball/24vanbredakolff.html?_r=1&ex=1350014400&e

Jan Van Breda Kolff, http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/v/vanbrja01.html

 

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