Tom Nissalke, the Utah Jazz's first head coach, dies at 87

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Former NBA and ABA Coach of the Year Tom Nissalke died on Thursday at 87. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Former NBA and ABA Coach of the Year Tom Nissalke died on Thursday at 87. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Former NBA and ABA Coach of the Year Tom Nissalke died at his Salt Lake City home on Thursday, the Deseret News reports.

Nissalke coached four NBA teams and three more in the ABA over a 14-year head coaching career. Notably, he was the first head coach for the Utah Jazz after their move from New Orleans in 1979.

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The Madison, Wis., native finished with a career record of 248-391 in the NBA and 123-117 in the ABA. He's the 11th-most winningest coach in ABA history and is one of eight coaches to win at least 100 games in both the NBA and ABA.

After playing collegiately at Florida State, Nissalke began his coaching career at Wayland Academy, a college prep school in Beaver Dam, Wis. He spent six years there before becoming an assistant at Wisconsin and Tulane.

Nissalke made his first jump to the NBA as a Milwaukee Bucks assistant in 1968 and was named the head coach of the ABA's Dallas Chaparrals in 1971. He was named Coach of the Year after improving the team by 12 wins, which earned him a promotion to the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics.

After bouncing around to two other ABA teams, Nissalke returned to the NBA with the Houston Rockets, where he had the best season of his career. The Rockets finished first in the Central Division and made the Eastern Conference finals, earning Nissalke his second Coach of the Year Award.

Nissalke coached several future Hall of Famers, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson with the Bucks. He also oversaw Adrian Dantley with the Jazz and Moses Malone on the Rockets.

After his final year as a head coach in 1984, Nissalke briefly was the league president of Canada's National Basketball League, which only existed from 1994-95.

Nissalke is survived by his two children, Holly and Thomas Jr., as well as his two grandchildren. His wife, Nancy, passed away in 2006 after a battle with cancer.

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