MANHATTAN, Kan. – Former Kansas State men’s basketball coach Lowell “Cotton” Fitzsimmons was recently announced as one of 16 individuals in the 2021 class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Fitzsimmons spent three years (1967-70) at K-State, including the last two (1968-70) as head coach, before embarking on a 21-year NBA coaching career that saw him win 832 games with five different franchises. The two-time NBA Coach of the Year (1979, 1989) is one of just 15 coaches with 800 or more victories in NBA history.
The Class of 2021 will be enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., on Saturday, September 11.
Fitzsimmons was among three inductees from the Contributor Committee, including former WNBA Commissioner and current BIG EAST Commissioner Val Ackerman and Co-Founder of the Five-Star Basketball Camp Howard Garfinkel. The trio was joined in the class by former NBA coach Rick Adelman, 11-time NBA All-Star Chris Bosh, four-time NBA All-Star Bob Dandridge, seven-time WNBA All-Star Yolanda Griffith, three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson, two-sport professional athlete Clarence “Fats” Jenkins, three-time EuroLeague MVP Toni Kukoc, four-time AIAW Small College All-American Pearl Moore, 10-time NBA All-Star Paul Pierce, the first Black NBA head coach Bill Russell, four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace, five-time NBA All-Star Chris Webber and two-time NCAA national champion and current Villanova head coach Jay Wright.
“For the first time in our history, we’ll enshrine two Classes in one calendar year,” said John L. Doleva, President and CEO of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “We couldn’t be more excited to welcome the Class of 2021 to Springfield – the Birthplace of Basketball – where we can celebrate them and honor their remarkable achievements and contributions to the game.”
Fitzsimmons is the fifth individual with K-State ties to be named to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, following his mentor Fred “Tex” Winter (2011), whom he followed as K-State head coach in 1968. Other K-State inductees include head coach Jack Gardner (1984) and All-Americans Bob Boozer (2010) and Mitch Richmond (2014). Boozer was elected as a contributor on one of the greatest Olympic teams (1960) of all-time.
A former assistant coach to Winter, Fitzsimmons led the Wildcats to 34 wins, including 19 in league play, and a pair of top-2 finishes in Big Eight play. After helping the school to a Big Eight title and the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinals in his lone season as an assistant coach in 1967-68, he followed Winter as head coach later that year and led the squad to a runner-up finish-up finish in conference play in his first season in 1968-69. His second and final team eclipsed the 20-win mark, won the league title with a 10-4 record and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, as Fitzsimmons earned 1970 Big Eight Coach of the Year honors.
Fitzsimmons saw three players earn All-Big Eight honors in his brief tenure, including Steve Honeycutt in 1969 and Jerry Venable and Bob Zender in 1970.
Fitzsimmons left K-State in 1970 to become head coach of the Phoenix Suns, the first of three coaching stints (1970-72; 1988-92; 1995-97) with the franchise. He would coach 21 seasons in the NBA, compiling the 16th-most victories in the league’s history with an 832-775 (.518) record with five different teams, including the Suns, Atlanta Hawks (1972-76), Buffalo Braves (1977-78), Kansas City Kings [currently the Sacramento Kings] (1978-84) and San Antonio Spurs (1984-86). His teams won 45 games on 10 occasions, including 50 or more victories by his Suns’ teams in four consecutive seasons from 1988-92.
Fitzsimmons led his teams to 12 NBA playoff appearances, including three Western Conference Finals appearances (1981, 1989, 1990).
Fitzsimmons was twice named NBA Coach of the Year, first in 1978-79 in leading the Kings to 48 wins and the conference semifinals and lastly in 1988-89 in guiding the Suns to 55 wins and the conference finals.
Fitzsimmons’ Hall of Fame players include Charles Barkley, Walt Bellamy, Artis Gilmore, Jason Kidd, Pete Maravich, Steve Nash and JoJo White.
A native of Hannibal, Mo., Fitzsimmons began his coaching career at Moberly (Mo.) Junior College, where he compiled a 224-58 (.794) record in 11 seasons and won national titles in 1966 and 1967. He was twice named the National Junior College Coach of the Year.
Fitzsimmons was Senior Executive Vice President of the Suns before his passing in 2004 at the age of 72.
Fitzsimmons is also a member of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame (1981) and National Junior College Hall of Fame (1985).
Enshrinement festivities will begin on Friday, September 10 at the Mohegan Sun with the Enshrinement Tip-Off Celebration and Awards Gala. The Class of 2021 will then journey to the Springfield, Mass., for the annual celebratory events taking place at the newly-renovated Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame and MassMutual Center on Saturday, September 11.
Tickets for the 2021 Enshrinement Ceremony and all Enshrinement events are on sale now and available online at www.hoophall.com or by calling the Basketball Hall of Fame at (413) 231.5513.