Nonstop-gesticulating, chair-kicking, sideline-pacing Butch

Gatinho —  August 24, 2007

Former Laker coach Butch Van Breda Kolff, who had a sometimes controversial but always colorful career on the sidelines with 13 teams in three professional leagues and at various colleges over a span of nearly four decades, has died. He was 84.

Imagine a 2003 Shaquille O’Neal being traded to last year’s Phoenix Suns.

He’s still athletic, but he is becoming increasingly comfortable with doing nothing more on offense than setting up camp in the post while his guys toss it in and cut off of the entry pass.

How would Mike D’Antoni feel?

Now we can begin to understand why, when Wilt Chamberlain was traded to Lakers in 1968, Butch Van Breda Kolff was angry.

He was at a house party at Bill Bertka’s, and he didn’t take the news in the way one would imagine upon learning his team had just been dealt the greatest offensive and rebounding force the game has ever seen.

“…Butch didn’t have anything against Chamberlain…but you had to have Chamberlain in the post, and that dictated a style of offense that Butch didn’t really like. He’d rather have all five men moving, all five men interchangeable and sharing the ball.”

-Bill Bertka from The Show

Born from the now infamous Princeton offense, it’s not hard to see why Van Breda Kolff had a dilemma.

Before Bill Sharman persuaded a more willing Wilt to focus on the “other end” of the floor, Van Breda Kolff would do the same but not without damaging the relationship beyond reconciliation.

Thus the clash of egos commenced.

Wilt would eventually acquiesce, and the Lakers would hold the opposition to a stingy 94.7 points per game.

“We’re doing well enough without you”

The low point of Van Breda Kolff’s roguish career unfolded in Los Angeles. At the worst possible time, and in the worst possible place.

In 1969 the Lakers felt they would finally break through. They had home court advantage after a 55-27 regular season that saw the Celtics finish fourth.

“Most of the years we played they were better than we were. But in ’69 they were not better. Period…”
-Jerry West

They took a 2-0 series lead, but The Celtics fought back to send it 7 games as per the ritual. But the uniqueness of finally having game 7 occur in LA caused owner Jack Kent Cooke to overflow with confidence. His Lakers would finally be freed from the “Garden Curse”.

So confident was he that he had balloons, that were to be released at the final buzzer, trapped in a net in the rafters of the Forum. The band was instructed to play “Happy Days Are Here Again” when the moment finally arrived.

Legend has it that the sheet of paper containing the instructions for the Forum staff on what to do when the Lakers won made it into the hands of the Celtics. Motivation that a hobbled and aging Celtics team could desperately use.

The fourth quarter arrived, and the Celtics took a 13 point lead when Russell, who in the ’68 Finals as player-coach had out-coached Van Breda Kolff, scored and gave Chamberlain his fifth foul. Van Breda Kolff left The Dipper in because in almost 900 games, Chamberlain had never fouled out. But Wilt came down wrong with 5:45 left and removed himself from the game.

This was too much for Van Breda Kolff and even Russell himself, who would later comment that even if his leg was broken, Wilt shouldn’t have come out.

Over the next 2:30 minutes, with those balloons still menacing the players from above, the Lakers would even the score while Chamberlain idled.

When Chamberlain asked to return to the game, Van Breda Kolff refused.

It was then that Van Breda Kolff would utter the words he would unfairly be most remembered for.

But this is but one moment in an illustrious career that included coaching the NBA, ABA, NCAA, as well as women, and eventually high school. And the trail that he blazed across the basketball world is one that is a testament to something we can all connect with: An unconditional love for the beauty of the game.

-Scott Thompson aka Gatinho



to Nonstop-gesticulating, chair-kicking, sideline-pacing Butch

  1. And I thought I was a Laker fan for enough years… I did not know this man. Was he good? or just an older version of Nellie and D’Antoni?


  2. Vagabond like Nellie, Motion offense like Mike D


  3. Ok I get the picture Gatinho. Guess he goes full-bore once the team feeds the post guy. Bet he has a 6’9 guy playing center too.

    How about defense? Nellie and D’Antoni as well?


  4. No, he hated the idea of feeding the post. He wanted back door cuts and constant motion of all five guys.

    That was the problem he encountered with Chamberlain. With West and Baylor scoring was taken care of. He wanted Chamberlain, the man who averaged 50 points a game one season, to focus on defense.


  5. And by the way, Nellie played for the Celtics in 1969.


  6. The Dude Abides August 25, 2007 at 12:15 am

    “And by the way, Nellie played for the Celtics in 1969.”

    He not only played, but he hit the shot in the last 30 seconds that won Game 7. Ever since then, I’ve referred to any shot that hits the heel of the rim, bounces straight up, goes past the height of the backboard, then comes down through the net, as a “Don Nelson bounce.” Ugh…the horror.


  7. Shame on me.


  8. Whether it is fair or not, all current Laker fans who were around that year will remember Van Breda Kolff for that last 5 minutes. He was a dead man in Los Angeles then and time has not dimmed our feelings very much.


  9. Here’s another great Van Breda Kollf story:

    “When his Memphis TAM’s (Teaxas Arkansas Mississippi) were getting blown out in San Antonio one night, Van Breda Kolff got off the bench, walked to a bar near the court and ordered a scotch
    and water while the game was still going on.”


  10. Watching the FIBA game against Brazil right now. Thought I would comment on Bill Walton’s obvious effort within this game to undercut Kobe Bryant. He has gone out of his way to make some very “opinionated” comments that berate Kobe and his game.

    Just thought it was interesting. Personally I think expressing your personal opinion about a player is a bit gutless. It’s kind of like talking behind someone’s back. I’ve always believed that if you have a problem with someone, say it to their face.

    I personally am a fan of the game, and not a proponent of glorifying players. I give them credit where it is due, but in the end it is about my team winning.

    My point here is that MANY sports writers and tv media have gone away from objectively reporting. Everyone feels they need to interject their opinion. To me, that is unfair to the players who are the subject of these articles/comments. They are defenseless. Prime example is TJ Simers interviewing Kobe and then adding his own personal take on Kobe to the entire American public. Completely out of line and pathetic.


  11. By the way, this is actually a good game. It’s on ESPN2 right now. Brazil is actually putting on a fight.


  12. A couple of notes after watching the US team last night.

    The US has absolutely no inside post up game whatsoever. there were a few plays where James posted up but other than that it was all penetration plays. But it works. They are so much more athletic that it really hasn’t made a difference so far. The main reason for this is their stifling defense led by Kobe. His defensive ability is amazing, especially when he applies it the whole time he is on the floor (as opposed to when he’s playing for the Lakers and only plays defense sparingly). Kobe intensity and defense seems to be contagious to the rest of the team too. Maybe if he played defense like that for the Lakers it would also be contagious.


  13. forum blue and gold is best laker blog out there right now. at least according to me.


  14. Good Morning!

    I noticed that Kobe stopped playing intense defense when Shaq left. He thends to play harder defense when he knows he can make an error and be covered. Well that is not quite fair because he lost Shaq, Fox and Fisher at the same time. He seems to play much more intense defense when he knows he will be covered. he even played better D when Mihm was behind him.

    If he shows up to camp and ready to carry over the same attitude I think the lakers will be better. I hope that Mihm can win the starting position back if andrew can’t. I know Phil liked him and he doesnt have to score to be involved.

    Good day All.


  15. Looking back. about Jerry West, I was a rabid Lakers fan when I was 12. To pay for a graduate education I am now selling on EBay a rare personal autograph that Jerry West gave me at the Forum when I was 12. Thanks for reading.