Skip to main content

Main content

Print

No clear answer why Fitch, Motta are not Hall of Famers

The NBA Coaches Association is backing Bill Fitch and Dick Motta as Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famers.

POSTED: Jan 29, 2015 1:42 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

AD

As coach of the Boston Celtics, Bill Fitch led a young Larry Bird to the 1981 championship.

Contrary to popular belief, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame doesn't determine its inductees with a Magic 8 Ball. It only seems that way, given the lack of transparency of the Hall's voting process.

Just about anyone can put together a candidate's nomination packet, but once submitted, one might as well hold the aforementioned novelty orb, say aloud the person's name and flip it over for the answer. Without a doubt ... Signs point to yes ... Don't count on it ... Reply hazy try again.

It might help to do the above in the company of a palm reader and a clairvoyant, before or after a séance, but even then, you're likely to wind up with Ask again later.

So all one really can do -- either as the nominator or the nominee -- is to hope for the best. That's what the NBA Coaches Association is doing on behalf of Bill Fitch and Dick Motta, two fixtures on the league's sidelines behind whom the coaches' group has thrown its support.

Michael Goldberg, executive director of the NBCA, pitched the Hall, including chairman Jerry Colangelo and its Board of Governors, on behalf of Fitch and Motta. Goldberg did so not just on Fitch and Motta's worthy records, but on the imbalance in the shrine between college basketball coaches (57) and those who made their mark in the NBA (16). It's one of the problems with one Hall trying to account for and honor an entire sport.

Actually, there is a National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Mo., but unlike football, there is none dedicated solely to the NBA. That's not the case with baseball, where the Negro Leagues have been embraced because of the game's long-ago segregation but the colleges and minor leagues fend for themselves. Hockey's, too, is dominated by NHL types.

In a recent letter to Colangelo, Goldberg notes that "since the year 2000, 14 college coaches have been inducted into the Hall of Fame as compared to seven NBA coaches," with coach-turned-TV analyst Hubie Brown going in as a "contributor."

There are some men with solid credentials stacking up for consideration in the coming years -- Gregg Popovich, obviously, but also Rick Adelmana and George Karl -- but Goldberg and the coaches' group believe Fitch and Motta are deserving now, with the Class of 2015. This year's finalists will be named during All-Star 2015 in New York Feb. 13-15.

By the numbers, they both present intriguing and similar cases: Fitch and Motta rank third and sixth, respectively, in NBA games worked. Everyone else in the top seven (Lenny Wilkens, Don Nelson, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown and Pat Riley) is already in the Hall. Fitch ranks 10th all-time in victories (944) and Motta 12th (935), and eight of the top 13 already are Hall of Famers. Of that top 13, nine have won at least one NBA championship -- and Fitch (Boston, 1981) and Motta (Washington, '78) are among them.

But -- and it's a considerable "but" -- both men got tagged with a lot of defeats through the years. In fact, Fitch ranks second all-time with 1,106 losses, behind only Wilkens' 1,155. And Motta ranks fourth at 1,017, after Don Nelson's 1,063. And their winning percentages surely weigh down their candidacies even more: Motta's .479 ranks 107th among the 313 fellows who have coached at least one NBA game, according to basketball-reference.com. And Fitch is 127th at .460.

Dick Motta
Dick Motta was the first coach in Mavs history.

Both, in other words, won at rates worse than those that got the likes of Brian Hill, Jim O'Brien, Scott Skiles, Bob Hill, Mike D'Antoni, Nate McMillan, John MacLeod and many other coaches fired.

Should that keep Fitch and Motta out? Jack McCallum, former NBA writer for Sports Illustrated who had a stint in the Hall's selection process, said a couple years ago he probably wouldn't vote for Motta because of it. And Fitch is even more underwater in sheer W-L.

Goldberg, though, focused on other aspects in making cases for both. Each man won an NBA title. Each was named Coach of the Year -- Fitch won that award twice, with Cleveland and Boston, and was voted one of the top 10 coaches of all-time when the NBA celebrated its first 50 years at the 1997 All-Star Game.

Each has spawned impressive "trees," in the form of players and assistants who went on to make their own marks as coaches. Fitch's includes Larry Bird, Rick Carlisle, Butch Beard, Don Chaney, Lionel Hollins, Kevin McHale and way back at the University of North Dakota, Phil Jackson. Motta influenced and/or worked with Jerry Sloan, Bernie Bickerstaff, Scott Brooks, Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson, Bob Weiss and Rick Adelman, among others.

Both were known as innovators, too. Fitch earned the nickname "Captain Video" for his early use of film and videotape to break down opponents and scout talent. Intended as a tease, he took it as a source of pride and eventually was proven right.

Motta's offensive schemes, highly efficient plays built on intricate screens and backdoor cuts, earned the Chicago Bulls an early and nearly forgotten era of pre-Michael Jordan success. They also influenced numerous rivals and devotees, including Sloan all those years in Utah.

Goldberg pitches the fact that neither man was afraid of heavy lifting.

Fitch broke into the NBA with the expansion Cavaliers in 1970 and lasted nine seasons there, tasting the playoffs three times. He took over a 29-53 Boston team and, with Bird's not-insignificant help, got the Celtics to 61-21 the next season. Houston went from 29-53 in Fitch's first season there to 48-34 and four straight postseason appearances.

Motta steered the Bulls to four consecutive 50-win seasons without a superstar, and got Washington to The Finals in 1978 and '79 against fierce (and arguably better) competition. He was Dallas' first coach in 1980-81 and paid the price with a 15-67 mark, but had the Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals in their fourth year.

Both coaches would have been better off if they retired early. Instead, they stuck around to lend their experience and strategies to teams too moribund to revive. If not for Fitch's final seven seasons with the Nets and the Clippers (182-392), he would have finished with a 762-714 mark, solidly above .500 (.516). Ditto for Motta, who went 127-267 in six seasons with Sacramento, Dallas a second time and Denver. Erase that and he exits at 808-750 (.519).

Both, for what it's worth, added color and zest to the game with their personalities, too. Fitch was adept as a quipster, once saying: "Going into a game against Lew Alcindor is like going into a knife fight and finding there's no blade in your handle." And "Sometimes you wake up in the morning and wish your parents had never met."

Motta, of course, is credited with popularizing (if not inventing) the operatic imagery, "It's not over until the fat lady sings."

It's not over for Fitch, 80, and Motta, 83, as far as Hall enshrinement. But so far, in place of singing, we're getting creepy floating messages.

Cannot predict now ... Outlook not so good ... Concentrate and ask again.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.