John Kundla

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John Kundla
John Kundla.jpg
Kundla in 2014
Personal information
Born (1916-07-03)July 3, 1916
Star Junction, Pennsylvania
Died July 23, 2017(2017-07-23) (aged 101)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Nationality American
Career information
High school Minneapolis Central
(Minneapolis, Minnesota)
College Minnesota (1936–1939)
Coaching career 1946–1968
Career history
As coach:
1946–1947 St. Thomas
1947–1959 Minneapolis Lakers
1959–1968 Minnesota
Career highlights and awards
Basketball Hall of Fame as coach
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2006

John Albert Kundla (July 3, 1916 – July 23, 2017) was an American college and professional basketball coach. He was the first head coach for the Minneapolis Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and its predecessors, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball League (NBL), serving 12 seasons, from 1947 to 1959. His teams won six league championships, one in the NBL, one in the BAA, and four in the NBA. Kundla was the head basketball coach at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul for one season in 1946–47, and at the University of Minnesota for ten seasons, from 1959 to 1968. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.


Kundla was born in the mining town of Star Junction, Pennsylvania to parents from Jakubany, at that time Austria-Hungary, now Slovakia.[1][2] He moved to Minneapolis at age 5.[3]

Playing and early coaching careers

After attending and playing basketball for Minneapolis Central High School (which closed in 1982), Kundla attended the University of Minnesota and was a standout for the Minnesota Golden Gophers basketball the late 1930s.[4] Following graduation, he stayed on at the university as an assistant coach to Dave MacMillan. He then moved to the high school ranks as the head coach of DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After two years there, the United States entered World War II, and Kundla joined the Navy, where he was assigned to LST units in both the European and Pacific theaters. After the war, he was hired to coach the College of St. Thomas.[3]

Minneapolis Lakers

Following the Tommies' 1946–47 season, the new franchise Minneapolis Lakers extended an offer to Kundla to coach the team, then playing in the National Basketball League. Kundla turned the offer down, however, as he was not impressed with the professional ranks. Team representatives returned, and this time the offer had been upped to $6,000 (twice his St. Thomas salary) and Kundla took the job at age 31.[3][5] Kundla and the Lakers were immediately successful. A month into the 1947–48 season, future Hall of Fame center George Mikan became available when his old team, the Chicago American Gears, folded. Outhustling the rest of the NBL and the teams of the rival Basketball Association of America (BAA), the predecessor of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Lakers signed Mikan. Kundla then guided the George Mikan-led Lakers, which also included star Jim Pollard, to the 1948 NBL title.[5]

Moving to the BAA for the 1948–49 season, which became the NBA in 1949–50, Kundla's Lakers won five NBA titles in six years, with 1951 being the only gap in the team's run, a season in which Mikan broke his ankle at the end of the campaign, thus allowing the Rochester Royals to defeat the Lakers in the Western Conference championship series three games to one. The first team to repeat as league champions then became the first team to three-peat, with Mikan fully healed for the 1951–52, 1952–53, and 1953–54 seasons.[6]

Kundla moved to the Lakers front office ahead of the 1957–58 campaign and handed off the coaching duties to Mikan, but the team's record fell to 9-30, leading Mikan to step down, and forcing Kundla back to the bench. His return was not the answer either though, as the team finished 19-53, recording one of the worst seasons in its history. In 1959, knowing that the Lakers franchise was going to be moved to Los Angeles (after being purchased by Bob Short, the team moved in 1960) and despite having future Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor on the team, Kundla chose to stay in Minnesota and resigned from the Lakers position to coach his alma mater, the University of Minnesota.[5] While coaching he also taught physical education at the university. He was the first Gophers coach to give scholarships to African-American players, resulting in him receiving hate mail.[3] Kundla stayed with the Gophers for nine years before retiring from coaching after the 1967–68 season with a record of 110-105.[7] He retired from teaching in 1981.[3]


In 1996, Kundla was voted as one of the 10 greatest coaches in the history of the NBA.[6] In 11 years of coaching in the BAA/NBA, he had a record of 423–302 in the regular season and 60–35 in the playoffs. Kundla's 1947–48 NBL championship season team went 43–17 during the regular season with 14 more wins in the post-season, but does not count under official NBA records. Kundla was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995, after being lamented as "all but forgotten" in a 1992 USA Today column.[3] In 1996, he was voted one of the top-10 coaches in league history for the "N.B.A. at 50" celebration.[3] After the Los Angeles Lakers won their 2002 championship, Kundla was awarded a championship ring along with other living Minneapolis Lakers players at a ceremony at the Staples Center.[3]

Personal life

Kundla met his wife, Marie, as undergraduates; the two raised six children. After resigning from the Lakers, he stayed close with Mikan and Vern Mikkelsen, often meeting his former players for breakfast.[3] Kundla is the grandfather of former Michigan State Spartans men's basketball player, Isaiah Dahlman, and former Wofford Terriers men's basketball player, Noah Dahlman, who was named the Southern Conference Men's Basketball Player of the Year in 2009–10. His wife died in 2007; the following year he moved into the Main Street Lodge Assisted Living Home in Minneapolis and continued to watch and follow the NBA.[3][8][9] He turned 100 in July 2016[10] and died on July 23, 2017, twenty days after his 101st birthday.[11]

Head coaching record


1947-48 60 43–17 .717% 1st in Western Division 10 PG 8 wins 2 losses .800% NBL champions[12]


Regular season G Games coached W Games won L Games lost W–L % Win–loss %
Post season PG Playoff games PW Playoff wins PL Playoff losses PW–L % Playoff win–loss %
Team Year G W L W–L% Finish PG PW PL PW–L% Result
Minneapolis 1948–49 60 44 16 .733 2nd in Western 10 8 2 .800 Won BAA Championship
Minneapolis 1949–50 68 51 17 .750 1st in Central 12 10 2 .833 Won NBA Championship
Minneapolis 1950–51 68 44 24 .647 1st in Western 7 3 4 .429 Lost in Div. Finals
Minneapolis 1951–52 66 40 26 .606 2nd in Western 13 9 4 .692 Won NBA Championship
Minneapolis 1952–53 70 48 22 .686 1st in Western 12 9 3 .750 Won NBA Championship
Minneapolis 1953–54 72 46 26 .639 1st in Western 13 9 4 .692 Won NBA Championship
Minneapolis 1954–55 72 40 32 .556 2nd in Western 7 3 4 .429 Lost in Div. Finals
Minneapolis 1955–56 72 33 39 .458 2nd in Western 3 1 2 .333 Lost in Div. Semifinals
Minneapolis 1956–57 72 34 38 .472 1st in Western 5 2 3 .400 Lost in Div. Finals
Minneapolis 1957–58 33 10 23 .303 4th in Western Missed Playoffs
Minneapolis 1958–59 72 33 39 .458 2nd in Western 13 6 7 .462 Lost in NBA Finals
Career 725 423 302 .583 95 60 35 .632 Hall of Fame head coach


Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
St. Thomas Tommies (Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) (1946–1947)
1946–47 St. Thomas 11–11[13] ?–? ?[14]
St. Thomas: 11–11 (.500) ?–? (–)
Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten Conference[15]) (1959–1968)
1959–60 Minnesota 12–12 8–6 T–3rd
1960–61 Minnesota 10–13 8–6 T–4th
1961–62 Minnesota 10–14 6–8 7th
1962–63 Minnesota 12–12 8–6 T–4th
1963–64 Minnesota 17–7 10–4 3rd
1964–65 Minnesota 19–5 11–3 2nd
1965–66 Minnesota 14–10 7–7 T–5th
1966–67 Minnesota 9–15 5–9 9th
1967–68 Minnesota 7–17 4–10 T–9th
Minnesota: 110–105 (.512) 67–59 (.532)
Total: 121–116 (.511)


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Louis Lazar, Almost 100, ‘Forgotten Legend of Basketball’ Still Marvels at the Game, The New York Times, June 2, 2016, accessed June 6, 2016.
  4. ^ "John Kundla –". Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  5. ^ a b c Reusse, Patrick (March 2, 2011). "Lakers' titles began as Kundla led way". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  6. ^ a b Goldstein, Richard (July 23, 2017), "John Kundla, Winning Coach of Fledgling Lakers, Dies at 101", The New York Times 
  7. ^ Lazar, Louie (June 2, 2016). "Almost 100, 'Forgotten Legend of Basketball' Still Marvels at the Game". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-08-05. Retrieved 2011-04-12. 
  9. ^ " Living legend Kundla recounts days as Lakers' first coach". Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  10. ^ Andy Greder (2016-07-02). "Kundla still holds court: On 100th birthday, former Lakers, Gophers coach still has stories to tell". Duluth News Tribune. Retrieved 2016-07-03. 
  11. ^ Rippel, Joel (July 23, 2017). "John Kundla, former Minneapolis Lakers coach and Basketball Hall of Famer, dies at 101". Star Tribune. Retrieved July 23, 2017. 
  12. ^ *Lazenby, Roland (2005). The Show: The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers In The Words of Those Who Lived It. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-143034-0. 
  13. ^ "NCAA® Career Statistics". 1999-03-20. Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-10-28. Retrieved 2013-04-02. 
  15. ^ "INDIVIDUAL RECORDS — ALL GAMES" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-10-02. 

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