Cotton Fitzsimmons gallery
January 1, 2011
Lowell "Cotton" Fitzsimmons was born in Hannibal, Mo., on Oct. 7, 1931.
Growing up the heartland of America, Cotton was instilled with a solid moral base at an early age.
Cotton got accustomed to winning early in life.
Cotton shows of his shooting form.
One of Fitzsimmons' basketball credos was that you can never have too many shooters.
While he also had a love for baseball growing up (top, second from right)...
,,, he would spend most of his life associated with the game of basketball.
Fitzsimmons (bottom, second from right) was inducted into the Missouri Basketball Hall of Fame, the National Junior College Hall of Fame and the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
Fitzsimmons began his coaching career in 1958 at Mobley (Mo.) Junior College, where he was twice named Coach of the Year in nine seasons.
Cotton then moved to Kansas State, where he was an assistant under Fred "Tex" Winter before taking over as head coach in 1968.
Jerry Colangelo picked Cotton from the college coaching ranks in 1970 after Fitzsimmons guided Kansas State to a Big Eight title.
Cotton got his first taste of NBA coaching in 1970 and NBA referees got their first taste of Cotton, as well.
Fitzsimmons began his NBA coaching career in 1970-71 and directed the Suns to a 97-76 record in two seasons.
Always at the forefront of the day's fashion trends, Cotton poses with Suns center Mel Counts (left), trainer Joe Proski and Suns forward Joe Thomas (right).
Cotton lets an official hear it as New York's Bill Bradley listens in .
Fitzsimmons then moved to Atlanta, where he coached the Hawks from 1972-76.
Cotton quickly gained a reputation as a fair and knowledgable coach who was not known to keep his thoughts on the officiating to himself.
Cotton coached some of the all-time greats of the game, including "Pistol" Pete Maravich during his stint in Atlanta.
Fitzsimmons coached the Buffalo Braves for one season in 1977-78.
He would have diagrammed a play in the sand if that's what it took to win a ball game.
Throughout his storied career, Cotton coached with and against some of the game's greats, including current Lakers coach Frank Hamblen.
He next coached the Kansas City Kings from 1978-84 and was named the NBA's Coach of the Year in 1979 after a first-place finish in the Midwest Division.
North Carolina star Phil Ford won the 1979 NBA Rookie of the Year while being coached by Fitzsimmons.
Cotton married his sweetheart JoAnn in the late '70s.
He was always an animated sideline participant...
... but sometimes even he couldn't bear to look when his teams were going bad.
Although Cotton usually did most of the talking in conversations with the referees, he would occassionally listen, as well.
Cotton would twice win NBA Coach of the Year honors.
The little white-haired kid from Hannibal never dreamed basketball would take him to the place where he would hang out with presidents like Jimmy Carter.
San Antonio was the coach's next stop, where he led the Spurs to the playoffs in each of his two seasons at the helm, 1984-86.
Not the greatest golfer, Cotton grabbed at the opportunity to pose with one of the all-time greats in Arnold Palmer.
Two of the greatest and most stubborn men in the game's history, Cotton goes nose-to-nose with referee and Valley native Tommy Nunez.
Fitzsimmons returned to the Valley in 1987 as the Suns' first director of player personnel before returning to the sidelines for the 1988-89 season.
The entire Valley was grateful Cotton agreed to rejoin the coaching ranks.
There was a new sherrif in town and he took time out to pose with former Arizona governor Rose Mofford.
And he always had time for his buddy, the Suns' Gorilla.
Fitzsimmons was among the NBA's most respected teachers in the game.
From left, former Suns coach John MacLeod, Al Attles, Jack McKinney and Cotton.
When fans voiced their displeasure at the drafting of unknown Dan Majerle in 1988, Cotton made his now-famous declaration that, "Someday, you will regret booing this young man."
The "Cotton Express" rolled to a 55-27 record in 1988-89, 27 wins better than the previous season and the third largest turnaround in NBA history.
Of course, Cotton wasn't the only key to the Suns' success. Phoenix signed Tom Chambers as the first unrestricted free agent in league history prior to the 1988-89 campaign.
Cotton acted as coach, father figure and friend to one of the best squads in club history.
"Big Daddy" and "EJ" share a laugh with Cotton.
That memorable season concluded with a trip to the Western Conference Finals and a second NBA Coach of the Year award for Fitzsimmons.
Cotton epitomized the club's community involvement philosophy and attended as many events as time would allow.
Assistant coaches Lionel Hollins (left) and Paul Westphal join Cotton and Van in a personnel discussion.
Cotton always had a soft spot for KJ after ochestrating the 1988 trade with Cleveland that brought the All-Star point guard to Phoenix.
Cotton hung out with some of the top coaching minds of the day including Jack Ramsay, Lenny Wilkens and Gene Shue.
Fitzsimmons also guided Phoenix to the 1989 Western Conference Finals after the Suns upset the Lakers in the Conference Semifinals.
Cotton enjoyed taking part in a cooking segment with a local news crew.
During his offseasons, Fitzsimmons regularly hosted the Fast Break Fantasy Camp in Lake Tahoe.
Cotton often had the priviledge of rubbing elbows with the greats of the game, such as Julius "Dr. J" Irving.
From Dr. J to Michael Jordan, Cotton always hung out with the best.
And also enjoyed meeting up with some of Hollywood's greatest, like famed Lakers fan Jack Nicholson.
Cotton and JoAnn, married nearly 26 years, always enjoyed Phoenix Suns Charities annual Tux & Tennies event.
A very personable man with a great sense of humor, Fitzsimmons always took the game and its integrity seriously.
It is no stretch to say hat Cotton Fitzsimmons was among the most influential figures in Phoenix Suns history.
Only Santa himself could give Cotton a run for his money in spreading joy.
Always a straight-shooter, Cotton loved to mix it up with the local beat writers.
Cotton always found time for the fans.
Cotton was one of the most passionate coaches to ever pace the sidelines.
From every charitable event to her courtside seats at AWA, JoAnn was never far from her devoted husband.
As a coach, Cotton was a master at creating the perfect on-court chemistry.
The Cotton-coached Suns split two historic regular season games against the Jazz in Japan to start the 1990-91 season.
Fitzsimmons recorded his 800th career coaching victory on March 31, 1992 with a win over Portland.
Colangelo presented Fitzsimmons with a trophy commemorating Cotton's 800th career victory.
Cotton finished his career sixth on the NBA all-time victory list and is currently 10th on the list of the greatest coaches in league history, along with coaching legend Lenny Wilkens.
The Suns' original trainer Joe Proski and Cotton carve up the bird on Thanksgiving.
Although he often stood a good deal shorter than his players, Cotton had a knack for relating to his "guys."
Under Fitzsimmons' leadership, the Suns recorded four consecutive 50-win seasons from 1988-92.
Although he often joked with his players, Cotton commanded their full attention and respect in the huddle.
Injuries derailed the Suns' playoff plans in 1991.
Ask any of Cotton's former players and they'll all tell you that he overflowed with confidence and enthusiasm.
Cotton usually had a good relationship with the referees, but was never afraid to let them have it, either.
In his 20-year coaching career, Cotton compiled an impressive 832-775 record (.518).
Cotton and Van guided the Suns' player personnel moves together for many years.
Phoenix fans loved the emotion and energy Cotton brought to the court.
JoAnn, KJ and Cotton share a light moment at one of the Suns' many annual charity functions.
Fitzsimmons groomed assistant coach Paul Westphal for four seasons before handing him the reins in 1992.
In returning to the front office, Cotton helped facilitate the arrival of Charles Barkley to Phoenix.
Fitzsimmons developed a close relationship with All-Star Charles Barkley and even picked Sir Charles up from the airport upon his arrival to the Valley.
Cotton poses with former Bulls stars Scottie Pippen (left) and B.J. Armstrong.
Upon retiring from the bench, Fitzsimmons worked as a playoff analyst for both NBC and TNT television broadcasts.
Fitzsimmons was the chief color analyst on KTAR and KUTP-TV broadcasts alongside voice of the Suns Al McCoy from 1992-96.
Fitzsimmons worked as a local Suns television analyst with veteran broadcaster Gary Bender.
JoAnn and Cotton became close friends of Nike founder Phil Knight.
And Cotton was inducted into Nike's Hall of Fame.
Much like E.F. Hutton, when Cotton Fitzsommins talked, people listened.
Fitzsimmons has been inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and the Missouri Basketball Hall of Fame.
Cotton's experience, knowledge, wit and charm made him a natural for the national talk show circuit.
Although he never won an NBA Championship, Fitzsimmons was proud of Jerry Colangelo's World Series win with the Diamondbacks in 2001.
Cotton, JoAnn and Bender went retro for the Suns' Hardwood Classic broadcast during the 2002-03 season.
Cotton and former ASU coach Bill Frieder were good friends for many years.
Cotton rarely hid his emotions.
Fitzsimmons took control of the huddle one last time when he coached the rookies in 2003's Rookie Challenge at All-Star Weekend.
Cotton was always eager to share his years of experience with today's coaches, including current Suns coach Mike D'Antoni.
No fish tale teller, Cotton had proof of this conquest.
As with basketball, Cotton was always a better golf coach than he was a golfer.
He never passed on the opportunity to act a little goofy.
Cotton goes for a spin on a camel at the Phoenix Zoo.
New York Post columnist Peter Vescey and the Fitzsimmons were close for years and Vescey often stayed with them when in the Valley.
Cotton Fitzsimmons becomes the 11th inductee into the Suns' prestigeous Ring of Honor in ceremonies on March 18.
Lowell "Cotton" Fitzsimmons