John Kundla

Coached 11 seasons


Some might consider it blasphemy to suggest someone other than Phil Jackson is the greatest coach in NBA history. Yet, as impressive as Jackson’s record is, he has never enjoyed a streak of dominance like Kundla had from 1948 to 1954, when he guided the Minneapolis Lakers to five league titles in six seasons, including three straight from 1952-54.

Yes, the Lakers’ first coach might well have been the best of all, as he laid the groundwork for an organization that has since become the gold standard of professional basketball in America. In building the NBA’s first true dynasty, Kundla preached the value of a dominant big man in the post—that man being Hall of Fame center George Mikan—and having a premiere player at the center position has been a Lakers’ trademark ever since.

Kundla coached for 11 seasons in the NBA—all in Minneapolis—before moving to the college ranks where he coached nine more seasons at the University of Minnesota, his alma mater. He coached 95 playoff games for the Lakers, compiling a stellar 60-35 record—and his 423 regular season victories and 60 postseason victories are both third most in team history.

Before the 1957-58 season, Kundla became general manager and persuaded Mikan to succeed him as coach. The experiment was a failure, as Mikan stepped down midway through the campaign after the Lakers had lost 30 of their first 39 games. Kundla took over again and the team went 10-23 down the stretch, finishing 19-53 and failing to make the playoffs for the first time. Kundla coached one more season, piloting the below-.500 Lakers to the finals. He was later chosen one of the Top 10 coaches in NBA history and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995.

— Steve Galluzzo
Feb. 12, 2011