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Michael Heisley and Memphis Grizzlies statements on the passing of Gene Bartow

Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

MEMPHIS, January 4, 2012 — The Memphis Grizzlies issued the following statements on the passing of President of Hoops L.P. and basketball icon Gene Bartow earlier today.

The Memphis Grizzlies are deeply saddened by the passing of Gene Bartow, President of Hoops LP and a treasured member of the Grizzlies family. Gene lent his heart and soul to the entire organization since the team’s arrival in Memphis in 2001 and was truly a special and beloved individual throughout the Memphis and Mid-South community. The Grizzlies were blessed with not only a great basketball mind, but a great friend and a great man, as Gene will be sorely missed by all those who knew him. Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with Gene’s wife, Ruth, and their entire family during this difficult time. 

During tonight’s contest as the Grizzlies visit the Minnesota Timberwolves, Grizzlies’ players will honor Gene by wearing the initials “GB” on their sneakers. The Grizzlies will release plans to recognize the life and legacy of Gene Bartow throughout the rest of the season at a later date.

Michael Heisley, Memphis Grizzlies Owner
“Yesterday, I lost a great friend from within the Grizzlies family. Gene, beyond his numerous coaching accolades, was an outstanding gentleman, a brilliant mind, and a person who touched countless hearts and made even bigger contributions than as a coach. The Grizzlies and the entire basketball community mourn his passing. My heart goes out to Ruth, his children and grandchildren during this difficult time. I will miss this gentle Christian man enormously.”

Lionel Hollins, Memphis Grizzlies Head Coach
“In addition to having the utmost respect for Gene as a coach and trusted confidant, he was also one of the most upstanding and genuine people I’ve ever had the pleasure to call a friend.  Gene helped provide the roots for this city’s wonderful basketball tradition, and his contributions to coaching and basketball were immense. Our prayers and thoughts go out to his family, friends and former players. He will be missed.”

Chris Wallace, Grizzlies General Manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations
“Coach Bartow had the rare distinction of being a consummate gentleman while at the same time being the consummate competitor. While his accomplishments as a head coach earned him admittance into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, the manner in which he touched countless people from all walks of life at every step of his career is even more impressive. He led the Tigers to national prominence at a time Memphis sorely needed a rallying point for all sections of the city to unite around.  Coach will go down in history as one of the most influential and beloved Memphians ever to grace the city.  We are all so blessed and fortunate to have had him in our lives."

Greg Campbell, Memphis Grizzlies President of Business Operations
“Gene was an inspiration to all of us at the Grizzlies and FedExForum. As an organization, we will strive each and every day to carry forward and represent the respectful manner in which he carried himself. As a friend, we will miss him dearly and count on the lessons he taught us to make us all better people. Throughout his life, Gene touched so many people, not only in the basketball world but in every aspect of life and we are fortunate and better people for that. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ruth and his entire family. We will miss him.”

Gene Bartow was a legendary college basketball coach and Southern native, who spent 11 seasons with the Grizzlies and five in his role as president of Hoops LP, which operates the Grizzlies and FedExForum. In addition to his role as president, Bartow served as an advisor on basketball and team-related matters such as scouting college and professional basketball talent and as an ambassador in the Memphis community.

With 34 years of coaching experience spanning four decades, Bartow amassed 647 collegiate wins over his career with six universities: the University of Alabama at Birmingham (1977-96), the University of California at Los Angeles (1975-77), the University of Illinois (1974-75), Memphis State University (1970-74), Valparaiso University (1964-70) and Central Missouri State University (1961-64). 

Bartow was one of eight inductees who were enshrined in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in November 2009, joining fellow basketball legends Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Travis Grant, Walter Byers, Jud Heathcote and Wayman Tisdale.

During his four seasons at Memphis State, Bartow earned Missouri Valley Coach of the Year honors in 1972 and was named National Coach of the Year in 1973. With forward Larry Finch setting nine school records in the chase, Bartow’s Tigers reached the national championship game in 1973, where they fell to the Bill Walton-led UCLA Bruins. After coaching opposite John Wooden in the title game, Bartow spent one season at Illinois before succeeding the legendary coach on the UCLA sidelines in 1975, guiding the Bruins to a 52-9 record and a berth in the 1976 Final Four.

In 1977, he accepted the challenge of initiating the athletics department at UAB. Fittingly, men’s basketball was the first sports program on campus, and Bartow manned the Blazers’ sidelines for 18 seasons as head coach while maintaining duties as athletic director for 24 years. In the program’s second season of existence, Bartow led the Blazers to an NIT appearance and followed up with seven consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Bartow turned over the coaching role at UAB to his son Murry in 1996 but remained the school’s athletic director until 2000. UAB Arena, home to the Blazers’ men’s and women’s basketball teams, was renamed Bartow Arena in 1997.