In 1992, a story in the USA Today newspaper, said John Kundla was deserving of membership in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame but he was "all but forgotten."
Kundla would eventually get the national recognition he deserved.
Kundla, who was born in Pennsylvania but moved to Minneapolis at the age of 5, enrolled at the University of Minnesota after graduating from Minneapolis Central High School.
He lettered in baseball and basketball for the Gophers, playing on the Gophers' Big Ten championship team in basketball in the 1936-37 season. In the 1938-39 season, he set the Gophers' single-season scoring record of 210 points. In 1939, he was awarded the Big Ten's Medal of Honor (for academic and athletic excellence), and in 1940, the Minneapolis Tribune named Kundla to its all-Gophers team for the previous decade.
Following graduation in 1939, he played professional baseball for Paducah (Ky.) in the Class D Kitty League. He batted .314 in 57 games. After the stint in professional baseball, Kundla became the director of physical education and basketball coach at Ascension School in Minneapolis.
In January 1941, he became an assistant basketball coach for the Gophers.
Eighteen months later, Kundla was hired to teach and coach baseball, basketball and football at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis. In his second season, Kundla, who taught world history at DeLaSalle, coached the Islanders to the championship of the state Catholic basketball tournament.
In April 1944, one month after winning the state title, he joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Pacific. After the war, he returned to Minnesota, and in February 1946, he was hired to coach baseball and basketball at St. Thomas College. Kundla coached the Tommies basketball team to an 11-11 record in his only season.
In June 1947, a Minneapolis businessman named Ben Berger purchased the Detroit franchise of the National Basketball League (NBL) and announced a move to Minneapolis. Kundla was offered the job. After turning down the team's first offer, he agreed to the second ($6,000 a year).
In the Lakers' first seven seasons in Minneapolis, Kundla directed them to six league championships (in three different leagues). The Lakers won the National Basketball League title in 1948. In 1949, the Lakers won the Basketball Association of America title. After that season, the BAA and NBL merged to form the NBA. The Lakers, with George Mikan, won four NBA titles in their first five seasons in the league.
Kundla is one of just three NBA coaches to win three consecutive titles (Red Auerbach and Pat Riley are the others). His five league titles are tied for third (with Riley and Gregg Popovich). He coached in the league's first four All-Star Games.
Following the 1956-57 season, Kundla moved to the Lakers' front office. But midway through the 1957-58 season, he returned to coaching and led the Lakers through the 1958-59 season.
In 12 seasons as coach, he directed the Lakers to a 466-319 record. The Lakers made the playoffs in all but one season. Six of the Lakers he coached are in the Hall of Fame — Elgin Baylor, Clyde Lovellette, Slater Martin, Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen and Jim Pollard.
Following the 1958-59 season, Kundla became the first University of Minnesota alumnus to become the Gophers basketball coach. He was the first Gophers basketball coach to offer African-Americans scholarships. In January 1961, Bobby Bell, three weeks after playing for the Gophers football team in the Rose Bowl, became the first African-American to play for the basketball team. Future NBA All-Stars Archie Clark and Lou Hudson played for Kundla and the Gophers in the mid-1960s.
After the 1967-68 season, Kundla stepped down. In nine seasons, he coached the Gophers to a 110-105 record, 67-59 in the Big Ten. His best seasons were 1963-64 when the Gophers finished third in the Big Ten (17-7 overall and 10-4 in the Big Ten) and 1964-65 when the Gophers were the Big Ten runner-up (19-5 overall and 11-3 in the Big Ten).
After resigning, he continued to teach in the U's Physical Education Department until retiring in 1981.
In 1995, Kundla was elected to the Hall of Fame and, in 1996, he was named one of the top 10 coaches in NBA history.
Teams: Minneapolis Lakers, Gophers.