Wednesday, May 14, 2003 Updated: June 11, 11:17 AM ET
DeBusschere dies of heart attack
NEW YORK -- Dave DeBusschere, the defensive cornerstone of
two championship teams who also was the NBA's youngest coach and
the last commissioner of the rival ABA, died Wednesday of a heart
attack at age 62.
Dave DeBusschere served as general manager of the Knicks after his playing career.
DeBusschere collapsed on a Manhattan street and died at NYU
Downtown Hospital, the NBA said.
A two-sport star at the University of Detroit, DeBusschere went
from the court to the front office to the Hall of Fame and was one
of a handful of players to reach the major leagues in both baseball
He pitched for two seasons with the Chicago White Sox and was
the youngest coach in NBA history when he took over the Detroit
Pistons in 1964. Traded to the New York Knicks in 1968, he played
for championship teams in 1970 and 1973.
DeBusschere also served as the last commissioner of the American
Basketball Association and was general manager of the Knicks and
the man who selected Patrick Ewing in the first NBA draft lottery
in 1985. DeBusschere's uniform No. 22 was retired by the Knicks and hangs
from the rafters at Madison Square Garden.
"As a player, coach, general manager, and ABA commissioner,
Dave DeBusschere was a winner," NBA commissioner David Stern said.
"He was a hard-nosed, blue-collar hero who gave all of his
considerable energy to our game. Our game has lost an icon and the
world has lost a good man."
Born in Detroit on Oct. 16, 1940, DeBusschere excelled at both
baseball and basketball, leading his high school teams to city and
state championships in both sports. In 1962, he signed a $75,000
bonus contract with the White Sox and was a territorial NBA
draft pick by the Pistons.
He tried to combine the sports and pitched parts of two seasons
with the White Sox, going 3-4 in 36 games. But it was in basketball
that he excelled and by 1964, he was player-coach of the Pistons,
at 24 the youngest coach in NBA history.
The Pistons went 79-143 with DeBusschere as player-coach, and he
was replaced late in the 1966-67 season by Donnis Butcher. A year
later, in December 1968, he was traded to the Knicks in exchange
for Howard Komives and Walt Bellamy.
In New York, the 6-foot-6 forward blossomed into a rugged
rebounder and defensive star and teamed with fellow Hall of Famers
Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and Bill Bradley to win championships in
1970 and '73. DeBusschere was picked for the NBA's All-Defensive
team six straight years from 1969-74.
"He was the difference in turning a team that was mediocre
around," Frazier said. "He was the final piece of the puzzle."
Bradley, a former U.S. senator, remembered DeBusschere as "a
loyal friend, an unselfish teammate and a quality human being."
"His strength, dedication and modesty lay at the core of our
great Knick teams. He was like a brother to me," he said.
DeBusschere retired after the 1973-74 season with a career
average of 16.1 points, plus totals of 9,618 rebounds, and 2,497
He then became general manager of the ABA's New York Nets in
1974 and a year later was picked to head the league. He was
instrumental in the 1976 merger of the ABA -- famous for its
red-white-and-blue basketballs -- with the NBA.
DeBusschere went into private business in 1976, then returned to
the NBA in May 1982, when he became general manager of the Knicks,
a job he held until 1986. It was in that role that he won the draft lottery and picked Georgetown center Ewing as the
No. 1 overall choice in June 1985.
DeBusschere was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983. In 1996, he
was picked as one of the 50 greatest players in the league's first
Jerry West recalled his longtime rival as "one of the really
classy people" in the sport.
"The fans of New York were very privileged to have had the
chance to applaud and celebrate his contribution to the Knicks'
legacy in New York," said West, now president of the Memphis
Grizzlies. "He will be missed by all of us who knew him so well."
DeBusschere pitched 102 innings in the majors and had a 2.90
ERA. On Aug. 13, 1963, he pitched a six-hit shutout to lead the
White Sox over Cleveland.
"He finally made the choice to go to the NBA, but he was a rare
two-sport athlete," said former White Sox teammate Tom McCraw, now
a Montreal coach. "He loved both of them.
"To be able to do both of them at the major league level, I was
in awe of that. I admired him and his dedication."
DeBusschere is survived by his wife, Geri, two sons and a
daughter. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.