Basketball Hall of Famer Kundla began coaching career with Catholic schools

| July 25, 2017 | 0 Comments

Before John Kundla, who died July 23 at the age of 101, became a Hall of Fame basketball coach with the Minneapolis Lakers, he started his career with Catholic schools.

A longtime parishioner of St. Austin in Minneapolis, Kundla first coached and taught at Ascension Catholic School in Minneapolis after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1939. He moved on to coach boys basketball, baseball and football at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis for two years. DeLaSalle won a Catholic league state basketball title during his stint.

Hall of fame basketball coach John Kundla led the College of St. Thomas men’s team in 1946-1957. Courtesy the University of St. Thomas.

Kundla then served with the Navy in World War II before his coaching career resumed. He then coached men’s basketball at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul in 1946-1947. He also coached baseball and freshman football that year.

Kundla then became coach for Minneapolis’ new professional basketball team, which moved from Detroit in 1947. He succeeded as the Lakers’ first coach as his teams won four NBA titles and one in the former Basketball Association of America. That success included a three-peat of NBA titles from 1952 to 1954 led by Hall of Fame players George Mikan and Vern Mikkelsen.

When the Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1959, Kundla opted to keep his family in Minneapolis. He and his wife, Marie, raised six children and were married 67 years until Marie Kundla’s death in 2007.

After the Lakers, Kundla continued his coaching as the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Minnesota where he led the Gophers for nine seasons until 1968. He became a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1995.

Kundla lived his final years at Catholic Eldercare centers in Minneapolis. He attended daily and Sunday Mass regularly at St. Anthony of Padua, a church adjacent to the Catholic Eldercare’s Albert J. Hofstede Care Center.

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