Larry Costello, Bucks First Head Coach, Dies at Age 70

Larry Costello, who guided the Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA Championship in 1971, passed away on Tuesday near Fort Myers, Fl., after battling cancer for more than a year. He was 70 years old.

Costello, a six-time NBA All-Star during 12 seasons as a player with the Philadelphia Warriors, Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers, retired in 1968. He was named head coach of the expansion Bucks on April 3, 1968, a position he held for nine seasons

With the Hall-of-Fame tandem of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, he led the Bucks to a 66-16 record in 1970-71, his third season with the club. In the 1971 playoffs, the Bucks won 12 of 14 playoff games, sweeping past the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Finals for their World Championship. In so doing, the Bucks became the fastest expansion team in any sport to hoist a championship trophy.

"Larry Costello established a foundation for the franchise that enabled it to become one of the most successful expansion teams in any sport,” remembered John Steinmiller, the Bucks Vice President - Business Operations, who joined the Bucks front office staff during the championship season.

“Larry's work ethic, dedication to the integrity of the game and love for Bucks fans in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin helped early to establish Bucks basketball in this community.

“Larry pioneered many new coaching approaches and techniques. His legacy is Milwaukee's only NBA Championship, and an indelible place in our state's history. He will be missed."

During his tenure as the Bucks mentor, Costello accrued a record of 410-264 in the regular season, as well as an impressive 37-23 record - and two NBA Finals appearances - in the postseason. His all-time coaching record of 430-300, which includes a one-year tenure (1978-79) with the Chicago Bulls, gives him a winning percentage of .589, a mark exceeded by only 11 coaches in NBA history.

Costello’s coaching trademark was a gruff, direct approach that masked the goodness of the man.

“Larry was a very dedicated, direct coach who was instrumental in my development as a ball player,” remembers Jon McGlocklin, who played eight seasons under Costello. “It was under Larry that I played my best basketball.

“Over the years, I got to know him personally, and have kept in touch with him and his family. At heart, under that exterior, he was a very honest man and a very good man who attacked his job with purity and with zeal. This is a sad day.”

Costello entered the NBA as a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Warriors in 1954. In his 12 seasons, he averaged 12.2 points and 3.8 assists and twice led the NBA in free throw percentage. He was a member of the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers team that won an NBA-record 68 games (since broken) and won the NBA Championship.

Born July 2, 1931, in Minoa, N.Y., Costello is survived by his wife Barbara and daughters Lesley, Pamela, Colleen and Amy. Memorial services will be held in Fort Myers and in Minoa. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, well-wishers make donations to the MACC Fund in Costello’s name.

MACC Fund
1200 N. Mayfair Rd., Suite 265
Milwaukee, WI 53226