The Cleveland Cavaliers and the basketball world at large were saddened on Friday with news of the death of former head coach Tom Nissalke. The 87-year-old coach died on Thursday at his home in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Nissalke served as head coach of seven different professional basketball teams, with three of those jobs coming in the defunct American Basketball Association (ABA). He had the rare distinction of winning Coach of the Year honors in both the ABA and NBA.
The first NBA head coaching job for Nissalke came with the Seattle SuperSonics during the 1972-73 season, with his efforts with the Cavaliers being the last of his seven stops. While he ended up compiling a miserable record of 51-113 during his two seasons from 1982 to 1984, it’s important to remember the timing of his tenure with the franchise.
Nissalke took over during the final year of Ted Stepien’s disastrous three years of ownership of the Cavaliers and after the Cavaliers had won only 15 of 82 games during the 1981-82 season. In addition, Stepien had allowed the franchise to be stripped of future first-round draft picks, turning the franchise into a national embarrassment.
Things weren’t always so bleak for the Wisconsin native since Nissalke served as an assistant for the Milwaukee Bucks during the franchise’s first three years from 1968 to 1971. It was during his final year that that Bucks won their first and only NBA title, an effort that no doubt helped Nissalke get the first of his head coaching opportunities. That came with the ABA Dallas Chaparrals.