O'Dea Coach Phil Lumpkin Found Dead at Age 57

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Phil Lumpkin only lasted one season with the Phoenix Suns, but he made it count.
Former NBA player and longtime O'Dea high school basketball coach Phil Lumpkin is dead. The 57-year-old was found in his apartment Monday morning by school officials worried that he hadn't returned their calls. While the exact cause is unknown, it's assumed that Lumpkin died of natural causes; as SunBreak's Seth Kolloen notes in an excellent post this morning, Lumpkin had a prodigious gut. O'Dea officials say he'd been sick the week before with pneumonia and Lumpkin's childhood neighbor said his 340-pound friend struggled with sleep apnea.

On a national level, Lumpkin is best remembered for the role he played in Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals, considered by many basketball fans to be the greatest game ever played. The Phoenix Suns back-up point guard checked in after the starter went down with an injury. Faced with a 22-point deficit, a juggernaut Celtics squad and a frenzied Garden crowd, Lumpkin, as was his style both as a coach and player, slowed down the game to a deliberate pace, slowly chipping away at the Celtics' lead until the Suns were owners of a thrilling triple-overtime win.

On a local level, Lumpkin's list of accomplishments begins and ends with O'Dea, where he built a dynasty. Lumpkin won five 3A state championship titles since taking over in 1991. And as Mason Kelley at the Seattle Times demonstrates in his comprehensive obituary, Lumpkin, like all good coaches, has no shortage of former players willing to speak to the transformative affect he had on their lives.

"He believed in me," former player Kerry McDonnell told Kelley. "He pushed me hard as a player. That toughness I still have today and a lot of it is from coach."

No announcements have been made about a memorial service. If one is going to happen, however, it'll probably show up on O'Dea's website.

 
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