CLEVELAND — Former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach and Hall of Famer Bill Fitch died Wednesday evening at the age of 89.
Fitch, a two-time Coach of the Year recipient, spent time with five different franchises over his 25 years of coaching, earning coaching recognition during his time with the Cavs and the Boston Celtics while also having coached the Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers.
In 1970, Fitch became the first coach of the Cavs when they became an expansion team. Several years of growing pains turned into an unforgettable era in Cleveland, with Fitch leading the team to their first division title in 1976, known as the Miracle at Richfield with players including Austin Carr, Bobby "Bingo" Smith, Nate Thurmond, Jim Chones and Dick Snyder.
Fitch was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1976 and went on to be the longest tenured coach in franchise history, leaving Cleveland for the Celtics in 1979.
With Boston, Fitch turned the team around with the help of then-rookie Larry Bird, taking the Celtics to the Conference Finals and winning Coach of the Year once again. In 1981, Fitch helped lead the Celtics to an NBA Finals victory.
After Cleveland and Boston, Fitch coached his stints with the Rockets, then Nets and finally the Clippers before retiring in 1998.
In 2019, Fitch was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and into the inaugural class of the Cavs Wall of Honor.
The Cavs reflected on the passing of Fitch Thursday, remembering how he "earned the love and respect of his Cavaliers players" and established values that continue to be held by all those he knew.
"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 Cavs said in a statement. "He became a life-long friend to many members of the Cavaliers organization. Those relationships were based on great admiration and appreciation for the special person Coach Fitch was and the foundational role he had with the franchise. It is a lasting bond that he will always be part of.”
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