Minnesota Lost A Basketball Pioneer In John Kundla

Mitchell Hansen
Web Editorial Associate

The state of Minnesota lost a basketball pioneer on Sunday.

John Kundla passed away on Sunday afternoon. He was 101 years old.

“John was an incredible staple of Minnesota basketball, and he continued to be a fan of the local hoops scene well after he left coaching,” Wolves and Lynx owner Glen Taylor said in a statement. “Our condolences go out to the Kundla family during this time.”

Let’s take a look back on the longtime coach’s impact on basketball in Minnesota:

Early Playing And Coaching Years

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Kundla moved to Minneapolis at a young age.

He went on to attend Minneapolis Central High School, before attending college at the University of Minnesota.

Before he began his coaching career, Kundla was a standout player for the Golden Gophers in the late 1930s.

After his playing career, Kundla moved into an assistant coaching role at Minnesota and became the head coach at DeLaSalle High School before leaving the job to enter the Navy during World War II.

When Kundla returned, he began to climb the coaching ranks in the state he spent most of his life living in. After the war, Kundla was hired on to coach St. Thomas, where spent one season.

In 1947, Kundla got one of his biggest breaks in his coaching career.

Minneapolis Lakers

In 1948, a new Basketball Association of America franchise named the Minneapolis Lakers hired 31-year-old Kundla as their head coach.

In the next six seasons, Kundla led Minneapolis to one of the best stretches in BAA/NBA history.

In his first six years with the team, Kundla helped the Lakers to a 273-131 record (68 percent) and five BAA/NBA championships.

Throughout his 11 years at the helm of the Lakers, Kundla tallied a record of 423-302 (58 percent) and held a playoff record of 60-35 (63 percent).

Following the 1958-59 NBA season, the Lakers made the move from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, which ended Kundla’s run as the team’s coach.

Kundla ended up returning to coach the Gophers as the head coach that next season, spending nine seasons as Minnesota’s head coach. His coaching career ended in 1968 after spending over 30 years around the game.

A Hall Of Fame Career

Nearly 30 years after he finished coaching, Kundla received an honor most players and coaches dream of when they start playing or coaching the game.

In 1995, Kundla was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

A year later, Kundla was voted as one of the 10 greatest coaches in NBA history. Other coaches on the list include Red Auerbach, Chuck Daly, Bill Fitch, Red Holzman, Phil Jackson, Don Nelson, Jack Ramsay, Pat Riley and Lenny Wilkens.

A Hall of Famer himself, Kundla coached six fellow Hall of Famers during his time with the Lakers (George Mikan, Elgin Baylor, Clyde Lovellette, Vern Mikkelsen, Slater Martin and Jim Pollard).

Kundla spent nearly his entire life living in Minnesota, a state he was happy to live in and call home.

Helping grow the game of basketball both here in the state and across the country, Kundla played a large part in shaping basketball in Minnesota as we know it today. 

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