Lowell Fitzsimmons (October 7, 1931–July 24, 2004) was a native of Hannibal, Missouri who was an NBA basketball coach. Better known as Cotton Fitzsimmons, he coached the Phoenix Suns three times, and is often credited as the architecht of the Suns' success of the late 1980s and early to middle 1990s.
He got his first job at Moberly junior high in 1956. He coached there eleven years, culminating his coaching career there with two national junior high school championships, in 1966 and 1967. For the 1968 season, he accepted a job at the NCAA's Kansas State University team.
In 1970, Fitzsimmons replaced Jerry Colangelo as Suns coach. He took the team to their first winning season, going 48-34 that season.
In 1972, Fitzsimmons went on to coach the Atlanta Hawks. He would return to Phoenix in 1975, to become a permanent resident, although he still coached the Hawks. According to Fitzsimmons, one of the main reasons he accepted a job as Hawks coach was the opportunity to coach Pete Maravich. In 1976, he became the player personeel director for the 1974 NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
In 1977, Cotton Fitzsimmons was hired as head coach by the Buffalo Braves. He lasted there one season, being hired by the Kansas City Kings to be their head coach for the next season. With the Kings, he won the NBA "Coach of the Year" award in 1979.
In 1981, Fitzsimmons was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1984, his profession took him to San Antonio, Texas, where he was head coach of the Spurs. One year later, in 1985, he was inducted into the National Junior College Hall of Fame.
Further honors came in 1988, when he was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. He also returned to the Suns organization that year, becoming one of the driving forces behind the trade that sent Larry Nance to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kevin Johnson, Mark West and a future first round draft pick.
Cotton Fitzsimmons was very criticized both by Suns fans and basketball critics after the trade; Nance was very popular in Phoenix. But the Suns had come off a chaotic 1987–1988 season in which they only won 28 games and lost 54, and the team had been shaken by a drug scandal. With the first round draft pick of 1988, the Suns chose Dan Majerle, and the franchise had a turn-around season, winning 55 games and losing 27 before advancing all the way to the Western conference's finals that season, where they were swept by the Lakers.
In 1989, he won his second "Coach of the Year" award in the NBA.
After another successful season, the Suns returned to the NBA playoffs in 1990. This time around, they returned the favor on the Lakers, beating them 4 games to 1 at the Western conference's semi-finals, but once again, Fitzsimmons' team fell short at the NBA's Western conference finals, losing to the Portland Trailblazers, 4 games to 2.
In 1991, the Suns lost to the Utah Jazz at the Western conference playoffs' first round, 3 games to 1. In 1992, Cotton Fitzsimmons became only the sixth coach in NBA history to reach 800 wins. After losing to the Trail Blazers at that year's Western conference semi-finals, 4 games to 1, Fitzsimmons retired as coach, to work as Suns senior executive vice-president. By then a long time friend of Colangelo, he helped Colangelo decide to trade Jeff Hornacek and Andrew Lang for Charles Barkley, while also helping with the decision of signing free agent Danny Ainge. He also did television commentary, joining Al McCoy at Suns' broadcasts.
In 1996, He returned to the Suns as head coach for the third time, helping the Suns win thirteen games in a row and squeak by a game into the NBA playoffs, where they lost to the Spurs, 3 games to 1.
The 1996–1997 Suns lost their first eight games, and Fitzsimmons resigned as head coach of the Suns. At the moment of his retirement , he had 832 wins and 775 losses, making him the eighth winningest coach in NBA history. He has since slipped to number ten in the all time winning list as an NBA coach.
Fitzsimmons was diagnosed with lung cancer later on in life. His family chose to keep his health status private.
Fitzsimmons was very popular among Suns fans and in the Suns organization. In Phoenix, his car would often be stopped by autograph seeking fans, to which, in most times, he obligued to sign.
Months after being diagnosed with cancer, his condition worsened because of a brain stroke. He suffered two more brain strokes before it was finally revealed to the public that he was in serious condition at a local hospital.
On July 25, the morning after his passing, the Arizona Republic's sports section's headline read: ""Brightest Sun Fitzsimmons dies".