Biography of Mitch Kupchak ('87)

 

After capturing two championships as a player and now seven as a front office executive, Mitch Kupchak's ('87) name has become synonymous with winning.

Entering his 24th season as a club executive and his 11th as the head of basketball operations, Kupchak has picked up right where close friend and mentor Jerry West left off. Since taking the reins prior to the Lakers first title defense in 2000-2001, Mitch's teams have compiled a 520-300 (.634) record, captured six Western Conference Championships and four NBA Titles while winning 68 percent of their postseason contests (102-49).

Along the way, he has made moves such as trading for Pau Gasol, bringing back Derek Fisher, drafting Andrew Bynum, signing Ron Artest and free-agent future Hall-of-Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton and acquiring role players the likes of Trevor Ariza, Shannon Brown and Horace Grant (a trade involving four teams and 12 players that was, at the time, the largest such transaction in league history) to help keep Los Angeles competitive within the confines of the salary cap.

Kupchak's duties include a variety of responsibilities which keep him thoroughly active 12 months a year. Number one on the list is the day-to-day management of the team. Included in his management duties are personnel decisions, contract negotiations, salary cap concerns and strategy, overseeing the Lakers' entry in the annual Summer Pro League and the scouting of collegiate and international players. In addition to those tasks, he also deals with various marketing, public relations and other management functions.

Kupchak, who joined the Lakers front office in 1986 following a 10-year NBA career, has played prominent roles in the past success of the Lakers as well as in the club's recent return to the upper echelon of the NBA.

Originally a first round draft choice of the Washington Bullets in 1976 (13th overall), Mitch spent the first five years of his career with the Bullets, earning NBA All-Rookie Team honors following the 1976-77 campaign. He posted a career-best field goal percentage during his rookie season (.572), a figure which at the time represented the 10th highest in league history. During the 1977-78 campaign, Mitch played an important role in Washington's drive to the NBA championship, ranking second among all NBA reserves with a scoring average of 14.6 points per game while posting a career-high-tying 32 points against the Lakers on November 24, 1978.

The opening chapter to Kupchak's Los Angeles career was written August 5, 1981 when the Lakers acquired him from Washington in exchange for Jim Chones, Brad Holland and a pair of draft choices. A reserve during his five-year tenure with the Bullets, Mitch was quickly inserted into the Lakers starting lineup. During the first 26 games of the 1981-82 campaign, Kupchak averaged 14.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest. Unfortunately, Mitch suffered multiple injuries to his left knee during a game at the San Diego Sports Arena on December 19, 1981, an injury which required two major operations. It was feared - even expected - that he would never play again. After missing the entire 1982-83 campaign, Kupchak proved doctors wrong by rejoining his teammates on the floor during the early portion of the 1983-84 season after undergoing intensive daily therapy for 16 months.

His persistence paid big dividends the following year as the reserve forward/center played a vital role in the Lakers march to the 1985 NBA Championship. With the victory, Kupchak joined a select group of players to win an NBA championship with two different clubs. Additionally, he remains one of only four players in club history to convert at least 10 field goals in a game without a miss (11-11 vs. San Antonio 11/20/81, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Byron Scott).

Prior to the start of the 1986-87 campaign and after yet another lengthy rehabilitation following an additional knee injury, Kupchak retired as a player and joined the front office. He concluded his NBA career averaging 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in 510 regular season games. His career field goal percentage of .523 still ranks 37th among the all-time NBA leaders (minimum 500 games played).

Due to his unfortunate injury and aware that his playing career would end prematurely, Kupchak studied for an MBA degree at UCLA Anderson during his spare time and rehabilitation stints, earning a degree in February of 1987. This foresight helped prepare Mitch for his present job as a professional sports executive.

A long-time Yankees fan who admired Mickey Mantle as a child, Mitch was born in Hicksville, New York on May 24, 1954 and starred at Brentwood High School on Long Island. An All-American standout at the University of North Carolina, Kupchak became the first freshman to play at the university after the freshman eligibility rules changed prior to the 1972-73 season. He averaged a career-high 18.5 points per game during his junior campaign and ranked eighth overall in the NCAA in field goal percentage that season (.602). As a senior, Mitch was named ACC Player of the Year and is one of 43 UNC standouts to have his jersey (#21) honored and raised to the rafters of the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill (November of 1994).

Prior to his initial NBA campaign, Mitch was the starting center on the gold-medal winning United States team in the 1976 Olympic Games.

An avid golfer, Mitch and his wife Claire live in Brentwood with their son Maxwell (13) and daughter Alina (11).