Happy 97th Birthday, John Kundla!

The “Not One, Not Two, Not Three” Club in Miami isn’t some hot spot of South Beach nightlife. It is, instead, a state of mind, with enough swagger, ego and even arrogance that you might think twice about which side of the velvet rope you prefer to be on.

That notorious boast three years ago was part of the thumping music-and-laser show that served as the first public appearance of Miami’s Big Three – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It rightfully has been mocked and ridiculed ever since – hey, the fellas got a little excited – and remains one of the chief reasons that crew has more critics than fans, maybe several times over.

But the Heat’s second consecutive NBA championships not only edged all that hubris a little closer to the truth, it shifted some number of Heat skeptics or, er, dislikers over to the other side. Including perhaps the oldest and perhaps most sage new member.

John Kundla, the first NBA coach ever to string together three NBA titles, turned 97 Wednesday. He is the oldest living member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He is, somehow, both legendary and overlooked, because his success with the Minneapolis Lakers came not just before James, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson took the league to new popularity but before Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell even arrived.

Kundla steered the George Mikan-era Lakers to five NBA championships in six seasons from 1949 to 1954. And he told Chris Tomasson of FoxSportsFlorida.com that he hopes Miami matches or tops that achievement:

Kundla next season would be proud to welcome [Erik] Spoelstra into the exclusive club of NBA coaches who have won three titles in a row. He even thinks Spoelstra and his Heat could end up claiming more overall titles than Kundla did with the Lakers.

Kundla won five, tied with [Heat president Pat] Riley for third most in NBA history. [Phil] Jackson, whose three-peats came with Chicago from 1991-93 and 1996-98 and with the Lakers from 2000-02, has claimed 11 and [Boston’s Red] Auerbach nine.

“We won five, but I’m saying that Miami is going to do better than that,” said Kundla, who also won NBA titles in 1949 and 1950. “LeBron has some good years left. They have good players and good coaching and a real good general manager (Riley). It takes a little but of luck. There’s always injuries. But I hope they do it.”

Kundla last coached in the NBA at age 42. He left the Lakers before they left Minneapolis, taking over as head coach at the University of Minnesota before retiring as a coach entirely at age 51.

But he still follows the game and said he watched The Finals with some fellow residents of the Minneapolis nursing home where they live. He planned to celebrate his birthday Wednesday with his five living children.

Kundla spoke with NBA.com for a Q&A when he was a wee lad of 94. You can read that here and Tomasson’s Heat-centric piece here.

One more sneak preview: Kundla, who coached five Hall of Famers on his five NBA championship teams (with one BAA title to start it all in 1948 to start it all), already considers James to be one of the five greatest players in history.

One Comment

  1. #BullsFAnDAN says:

    Mikan the original GOAT R.I.P. MJ the ture GOAT.