Bill Fitch, a legendary NBA and University of North Dakota men’s basketball coach passed away at the age of 89 late Wednesday evening.
A native of Davenport, Iowa, Fitch was an NBA coach for 25 seasons. During that time he was named the Coach of the Year twice, in 1976 and 1980. In 1981 he led the Boston Celtics to an NBA Championship and currently holds the highest winning percentage in Celtic history (.738). Fitch is one of only two coaches in NBA history to lead a team to three straight 60-win seasons. In the 2012-13 NBA season he received the NBA’s Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award. Also, in 1996 Fitch was named to the NBA’s Ten Best Coaches of All-Time.
Over his 25 years in the NBA, Fitch coached five different franchises. They included the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, New Jersey (Brooklyn) Nets, and Los Angeles Clippers.
In five seasons at the helm for UND, Fitch racked up 94 wins. During that time North Dakota went to back-to-back NCAA Division II Final Fours in 1965 and 1966. Those Final Four teams were led by a future NBA Hall of Famer in Phil Jackson.
Fitch was enshrined into UND history in 1993 when he was inducted into the UND Hall of Fame. Recently NBA history came knocking at his door, when in 2019 he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Throughout his entire career Fitch accomplished countless feats, including being the Cleveland Cavaliers longest tenured coach in franchise history after being named the team's first head coach in 1970. He led the Cavaliers to the playoffs three straight seasons (1976-1978) starting in 1976 with “The Miracle of Richfield” season, leading the Cavs to their first division title. That same season Fitch was honored as the NBA Coach of the Year. In 2019 he was part of the inaugural Cavaliers Wall of Honor class.
Fitch led his teams using the highest standard reflected by the team’s motto as a, “group of daring, fearless men, whose life’s impact was never surrender, no matter what the odds.” Many of those in his life on and off the court still value that very motto.
"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." - Cleveland Cavaliers Organization