Dave DeBusschere, the defensive cornerstone of two championship teams who also was the NBA's youngest coach and the last commissioner of the rival ABA, died May 14th of a heart attack at age 62. DeBusschere collapsed on a Manhattan street and died at NYU Downtown Hospital, the NBA said.
A two-sport star at the University of Detroit, DeBusschere went from the court to the front office to the Hall of Fame and was one of a handful of players to reach the major leagues in both baseball and basketball.
DeBusschere pitched for two seasons with the Chicago White Sox and was the youngest coach in NBA history when he took over the Detroit Pistons in 1964, at the age of 24. Later he was traded to the New York Knicks, where he played for championship teams in 1970 and 1973.
DeBusschere also served as the last commissioner of the American Basketball Association and was general manager of the Knicks and the man who selected Patrick Ewing in the first NBA draft lottery in 1985. DeBusschere's uniform Number 22 was retired by the Knicks and hangs from the rafters at Madison Square Garden.
"As a player, coach, general manager, and ABA commissioner, Dave DeBusschere was a winner," NBA commissioner David Stern said. "He was a hard-nosed, blue-collar hero who gave all of his considerable energy to our game. Our game has lost an icon and the world has lost a good man."
Born in Detroit on October 16, 1940, DeBusschere excelled at both baseball and basketball, leading his high school teams to city and state championships in both sports. In 1962, he signed a $75,000 bonus contract with the White Sox and was a territorial NBA draft pick by the Pistons.
He tried to combine the sports and pitched parts of two seasons with the White Sox, going 3-4 in 36 games. DeBusschere pitched 102 innings in the majors and had a 2.90 ERA. Including 1 career shutout on August 13, 1963, when he allowed jus 6 hits to lead the White Sox over the Cleveland Indians.
However, it was in basketball where Dave DeBusschere excelled and by 1964, he was named player-coach of the Pistons, at 24 the youngest coach in NBA history.
"He finally made the choice to go to the NBA, but he was a rare two-sport athlete," said former White Sox teammate Tom McCraw, now a Montreal coach. "He loved both of them. "To be able to do both of them at the major league level, I was in awe of that. I admired him and his dedication."
The Pistons went 79-143 with Dave DeBusschere as player-coach, and he was replaced late in the 1966-67 season by Donnis Butcher. A year later, in December 1968, he was traded to the New York Knicks in exchange for Howard Komives and Walt Bellamy.
In New York, the 6-foot-6 forward blossomed into a rugged rebounder and defensive star and teamed with fellow Hall of Famers Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and Bill Bradley to win championships in 1970 and 1973. DeBusschere was picked for the NBA's All-Defensive team 6 straight years from 1969-74.
"He was the difference in turning a team that was mediocre around," Walt Frazier said. "He was the final piece of the puzzle."
Bill Bradley, a former U.S. senator, remembered DeBusschere as "a loyal friend, an unselfish teammate and a quality human being." "His strength, dedication and modesty lay at the core of our great Knick teams. He was like a brother to me," he said.
DeBusschere retired after the 1973-74 season with a career average of 16.1 points, plus totals of 9,618 rebounds, and 2,497 assists. He then became general manager of the ABA's New York Nets in 1974 and a year later was picked to head the league. DeBusschere was instrumental in the 1976 merger of the ABA, with the NBA.
Dave DeBusschere went into private business in 1976, and then returned to the NBA in May 1982, when he became general manager of the New York Knicks, a job he held until 1986. It was in that role that he won the very first NBA draft lottery and picked Georgetown center Patrick Ewing as the No. 1 overall choice in June 1985.
Dave DeBusschere was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983. In 1996, he was picked as one of the 50 greatest players in the league's first half-century.
Jerry West recalled his longtime rival as "one of the really classy people" in the sport. "The fans of New York were very privileged to have had the chance to applaud and celebrate his contribution to the Knicks' legacy in New York," said West, now president of the Memphis Grizzlies. "He will be missed by all of us who knew him so well."
Dave DeBusschere is survived by his wife, Geri, two sons and a daughter.
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