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John Kundla (1916 - 2017)

AP / Matty Zimmermann

John Kundla (1916 - 2017)

John Kundla, a Basketball Hall of Famer who was the first head coach of the Minneapolis Lakers, died Sunday, July 23, 2017. He was 101.

He coached pro basketball from 1946 to 1968. His teams won six league championships, four in the NBA, one in the National Basketball League, and one in the Basketball Association of America. The latter two were the predecessors of the NBA.


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John Albert Kundla was born July 3, 1916, in Star Junction, Pennsylvania. His family moved to Minneapolis when he was 5. He was a graduate of the University of Minnesota, where he was a standout for the Golden Gophers basketball teams of the late 1930s.

He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After the war, he coached the College of St. Thomas men’s basketball team for a season. After that, the Minneapolis Lakers hired Kundla as head coach in 1947. He led the team to the 1948 NBL title. Kundla’s teams went on to win five BAA-NBA titles in six years, from 1949 to 1954. Kundla’s Lakers were the first modern dynasty of pro basketball. Major players at the time included Hall of Fame center George Mikan and the high-jumping forward Jim Pollard.

After his coaching days with the Lakers ended in 1960, he stayed in Minnesota while the Lakers moved to Los Angeles. Kundla coached at his alma mater and taught physical education at the University of Minnesota. He retired from coaching in 1968 and from teaching in 1981.

He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.

He is survived by six children. His wife, Marie, whom he met at the University of Minnesota, preceded him in death, in 2007.

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