Bill Fitch wins Lifetime Achievement Award
by Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports
SAN ANTONIO — After the first five games of the 1989-90 NBA season, New Jersey Nets coach Bill Fitch called guard Rick Carlisle and told him he had been waived.
But Fitch offered Carlisle a position as an assistant, and Carlisle embarked on his successful coaching career.
The story doesn’t end there, though. At the end of the 1989-90 season, the struggling Nets were on the road and on their way to a 17-65 season.
The coaching staff had just finished watching film of another loss when Fitch turned to Carlisle.
“‘Rick, I have one question for you: How does it make you feel to know that you weren’t good enough to make this team?’ ” Carlisle recalls. “And I don’t remember my exact response. But I was thinking, ‘I hope coaching goes better.’ ”
It wasn’t Fitch’s worst season — he went 15-67 with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1970-71 — and he had several successful seasons, including an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 1980-81 and a trip to the Finals with the Houston Rockets in 1985-86.
For all his accomplishments in a 25-year NBA coaching career, Fitch was awarded the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Basketball Coaches Association on Tuesday.
“I’m very blessed and humbled with this award because Chuck was a good friend of mine,” Fitch said. “The guys that have been rewarded before me are all great guys and great coaches and guys that I’ve been proud to participate against.”
Respected for the work he did during his career, Miami President Pat Riley, veteran NBA coach P.J. Carlesimo and NBA Commissioner David Stern were in attendance.
Stern asked the first question.
“Would you like your fines back?” Stern said.
“You couldn’t afford to give them all back to me,” Fitch replied.
Fitch won 944 games and lost 1,106, but he spent a majority of his career taking over either expansion teams (Cavaliers) or teams trying to reverse losing seasons (Rockets, Nets). Fitch was a fixer and a teacher. Almost all of his teams improved after he took over.
“It’s something that I never felt I ever had a job,” Fitch said. “Coaching … [For more on Bill Fitch wins Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, click here.]