Bill Fitch, a two-time NBA Coach of the Year who guided the Boston Celtics to a 1981 NBA crown, has died, the team announced Thursday. He was 89.
Fitch, who died late Wednesday in Texas, spent 25 seasons as an NBA coach with the Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers.
He compiled a career record of 944-1,106, and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.
After guiding the Cavaliers from 1970 through the first nine seasons of their existence, Fitch took over a Celtics club coming off the two worst seasons in its history.
He arrived in Boston at the same time as a rookie star named Larry Bird and together they led the Celtics to the 1980 Eastern Conference finals and the 1981 NBA crown, defeating the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals.
“Fitch’s deep knowledge of the game, toughness, and dry wit made him a perfect fit for Boston and the Celtics,” the team said in a statement.
“Fitch had already built a reputation as a turnaround artist and his ability to get the best out of his players paid immediate dividends as Fitch orchestrated what was at the time the best turnaround in NBA history.
“The Celtics family mourns his loss as we celebrate his legacy.”
Fitch was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1976, when he guided Cleveland to the Eastern Conference finals, and in 1980 after his first season in Boston.
“Coach Fitch was a great friend and trusted mentor and teacher to so many across the entire basketball community, while his impact on the game, and the lives of those he touched, spanned multiple generations,” the Cavaliers said in a statement.
He also coached Houston to the 1986 NBA Finals, when the Rockets lost to Boston. Fitch was fired by Houston in 1988 and never managed a winning campaign with the Nets or Clippers before closing his career in 1998.