Work in Sports
Musselman dies of cancer
Posted: Saturday May 06, 2000 01:16 AM
ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) -- Bill Musselman, who spent a turbulent stay at the University of Minnesota in the 1970s and became the first coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, died Friday at 59.
The cause of death was heart and kidney failure, a Mayo Clinic spokesman said. Musselman died at the clinic's St. Marys Hospital.
Musselman said last month he had bone marrow cancer. He had a stroke Oct. 28 and had been hospitalized off and on since.
Musselman, fiery, intense and always jumping from his sideline seat, was a basketball vagabond, coaching at all levels of the game. He held 14 head coaching jobs over 35 years and had been an assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers since 1997.
He became coach of the Timberwolves in 1989 and coached them two seasons. He also coached the Cleveland Cavaliers for two seasons and had a record of 233-84 as a college coach at Ashland, Minnesota and South Alabama.
Blazers president Bob Whitsitt said Musselman was "always focused, whether it was basketball, his children, his wife, or a fan who interrupted his dinner for an autograph."
During Musselman's illness, Whitsitt said, he "never uttered a word of self-pity, never said 'why me' or 'it's not fair.' He will be sorely missed."
Musselman had been a head coach in four pro leagues -- the NBA, Continental Basketball Association, American Basketball Association and Western Basketball Association. His career record in the pros was 603-426, and he won four consecutive CBA championships.
While at the University of Minnesota, Musselman posted a slogan in the locker room telling players that defeat was worse than death because you have to live with defeat.
"I think a lot of people probably see Bill as that guy on the sidelines, intense, up and down the floor, up and down the bench, but I don't know if a lot of people saw the other side of Bill," said Sidney Lowe, an assistant Timberwolves coach who played three years for Musselman in the CBA.
Lowe recalled times on the road with the CBA's Tampa Bay Thrillers and Albany Patroons when Musselman would sneak into an adjoining hotel room and scare players with ghostly noises.
"He had a very humorous side to him that I think a lot of people didn't see," Lowe said.
Musselman had the highest winning percentage of any basketball coach in University of Minnesota history (69-32) during four seasons from 1971-1975. However, his teams incurred more than 100 NCAA rules violations that resulted in stiff sanctions after he left. Musselman was named in nearly half of the violations.
In 1972, Minnesota and Ohio State brawled on the court, with three players going to the hospital. The Gophers went on to win the Big Ten title that year despite the suspension of two players for the rest of the season.
Musselman had a lower profile when he left South Alabama after two turbulent seasons to join the Trail Blazers as one of Mike Dunleavy's assistants.
"I like not having the pressure of being a head coach," he said.
Portland eliminated the Timberwolves in the first round of the playoffs. Musselman had wanted to sit behind the Blazers' bench for the games in Minneapolis, but his doctors wouldn't let him leave the hospital.
"I think that he played this out on his own terms, the way he wanted to go," Dunleavy said.
Musselman is survived by his wife, Julie; and three children, Eric, Nicole and Max. Eric Musselman is an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic.