The Richmond Register


August 31, 2011

James Edward Baechtold, 83

RICHMOND — James Edward Baechtold, 83, former EKU star basketball player and coach, NBA first-round draft choice, and retired EKU professor, died Monday, August 29, 2011.

Jim Baechtold was one of five children born to an Irish mother, Emma Keenan Baechtold, and Walter Baechtold, their Swiss-German father. Growing up in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, with two older brothers and a raft of cousins from the Keenan clan living nearby, Jim could always find players and competition for football, basketball, or any other game. The memory of those summer days and his love of games and competition endured for a lifetime.

 Jim played basketball, baseball, and football at Moon High. By his senior year, he had lettered in three sports, but his dream was to play basketball at a major college. World War II was over in 1945, and veterans were returning to college, dominating many college athletic teams. A skinny kid barely 6 feet, 1 inch tall had little chance of winning a basketball scholarship, so in 1946, on the advice of Chuck Davies, Duquesne's basketball coach, Jim joined the army.

On detached service in Japan with the First Cavalry Division, Jim played ball, “everything that rolls or bounces,” with U.S. occupational forces. By the time of his discharge, he was a 6-foot 4-inch tall, 215 pound athlete. He accepted a scholarship to play football and basketball at the University of Alabama, but on the way to Tuscaloosa he stopped to visit friends in Richmond, Kentucky. He remained at Eastern for the next four years on a basketball scholarship offered by legendary coach Paul McBrayer.

By his college graduation, Jim had received many honors, including All-America honorable mention by United Press International. Coach McBrayer made sure his star player did not go unnoticed by professional scouts. In the 1952 NBA draft, Jim was the Baltimore Bullets' first-round draft choice, and the second player selected by any team in the draft.

In his first NBA season, Jim played in 64 games, including a game in Boston Garden where his 30 points helped the Bullets beat the New York Knicks in a doubleheader. By the next year, Jim was playing for Coach Joe Lapchick in New York. His dream of playing in Madison Square Garden had come true.

Jump shots had not replaced set shots in the 1950s, so to New York fans, Jim's jump shot was an exciting novelty. Veteran broadcaster Marv Albert, who was 13 at the time, was president of the Jim Baechtold Fan Club and published The Baechtold Bulletin every month. In his book "I'd Love to, But I Have a Game", Albert says, "Jim Baechtold was a very underrated player. He owned one of the first really classy jump shots."

When a knee injury and subsequent surgery forced him to retire from pro basketball in 1957, Jim returned to Eastern, where he became Coach McBrayer's assistant. Five years later, McBrayer resigned, and Jim was named Eastern's head coach.

Several significant "firsts" occurred during the years Jim served as head coach. For the first time, African Americans began playing on Eastern's basketball teams. For the first time, opposing coaches were shocked to encounter an occasional 3-2 or matching zone defense, replacing Eastern's traditional man-to-man defense. And, in the first game played in Alumni Coliseum, Jim coached Eastern to a 78-65 victory over Louisville.

Jim never lost his love of games and recreation. In the summers of his NBA years, he was in Graduate School at Indiana University, where he earned a Master's degree in recreation. After his coaching career was over, he taught in EKU's Recreation and Parks Department until he retired.

In 2006, Jim became a member of the Founders Class of the Eastern Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame, and more recently, he was named to EKU's All-Century Basketball Team. He is also a member of the Legends, retired NBA players.

Family and friends will remember Jim's competitive spirit, his fierce determination, German pride, and his courage during the two and a half years he lived with multiple myeloma, a disease that has no known cause or cure.

But they will also remember his mischievous sense of humor and his quick Irish wit. Even in the hospital, feverish and somewhat incoherent, he managed to get off a one-liner. A young nurse's aide, pencil and notebook in hand, began to question him.

"May I have your name?" she said.

 "No, I want to keep it," Jim said, much to the embarrassment of the young woman, who thought he was serious.

Despite his awards and his stellar career as a player and a coach, Jim's family was always uppermost in his heart. He was devoted to Shirley, his wife of 57 years. He was the proud father of two sons: Jim, a Richmond attorney, and Dan, a city planner in Asheville, N.C. His two daughters by marriage, for whom he had deep affection, are: Lisette, a Richmond dentist, and Angie, an Asheville pediatric dentist. In his final years, he cherished his role of Papa to his beloved grandchildren: Ethan, Lindsay, and Anna Kate.

 He remained close to his Moon Township relatives: his brother Bernard, and his sisters, Mary Agnes Tesla and Lois Kornaus. Another brother, Ray, died in 1988.

Visitation will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, September 1, 2011, at Oldham, Roberts, and Powell Funeral Home on Barnes Mill Road in Richmond.

A memorial service will be conducted Friday, 11 a.m., at the First Presbyterian Church in Richmond, where Jim once served as Deacon, Elder, and Sunday School Superintendent.

His family wishes to express our profound thanks and deep appreciation to Hospice and the dedicated staff and volunteers at the Compassionate Care Center, 350 Isaacs Lane, Richmond, KY 40475.

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