Fitzsimmons had impact on basketball at many levels

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

PHOENIX -- Cotton Fitzsimmons, who won 832 games in 21 seasons as an NBA coach, died Saturday due to complications from lung cancer.

Fitzsimmons, 72, was a Missouri native who coached Moberly, Mo., to two junior college championship and won the Big Eight title at Kansas State before moving to the NBA, where his time included a stint with the Kansas City Kings.

Fitzsimmons was executive vice president of the Phoenix Suns, a team he coached on three occasions.

A malignant tumor was found on Fitzsimmons' lung, near his heart, in April and he had been in a Phoenix-area care center since suffering a stroke earlier this month.

The colorful coach, born in Hannibal, Mo., was a television and radio commentator for the Suns in recent years.

"Cotton Fitzsimmons embodied all things that are great about life and the game of basketball," Suns chairman and CEO Jerry Colangelo said. "His energy, passion and upbeat approach to everything impacted those that he touched in a positive and meaningful way.."

Fitzsimmons had NBA coaching stints with five teams -- Phoenix, Atlanta, Buffalo, Kansas City and San Antonio. He had a 832-775 (.518) record in the NBA, ranking him 10th in career victories.

Fitzsimmons was head coach at Kansas State for two seasons, earning Big Eight coach of the year honors in 1970, when he directed the Wildcats to the conference title and the NCAA regional semifinals.

Colangelo lured Fitzsimmons to the Suns in 1970, and the coach was 96-67 in two seasons with Phoenix.

From there, Fitzsimmons coached Atlanta from 1972 to 1976. He was director of player personnel for the Golden State Warriors in 1976-77, then coached the Buffalo Braves in the 1977-78 season.

Fitzsimmons moved to Kansas City and coached the Kings from 1978 to 1984. He coached the San Antonio Spurs from 1984 to 1986.

He became coach of the Suns for the second time in 1988 after serving one year as the franchise's first director of player personnel. He left the sidelines in 1992 after guiding Phoenix to four straight 50-win seasons and two trips to the Western Conference finals.

Fitzsimmons moved to the Suns' front office, but took over as coach again when Paul Westphal was fired in January of 1996. When Phoenix got off to a 0-8 start the following year, Fitzsimmons turned coaching duties over to Danny Ainge.

Fitzsimmons began coaching at Moberly Junior College in Missouri, going 223-59 in nine seasons, winning two national titles and twice being named junior college coach of the year. He moved to Kansas State as an assistant to Tex Winter, then took over as Wildcats' head coach in 1968.

Fitzsimmons, whose first name was Lowell, got his nickname for his fluffy white hair -- in the day when he had a lot of it. Players and coaches said he didn't take himself too seriously.

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