A historic event for the Perth Wildcats last night was tinged with sadness after former championship-winning coach Murray Arnold lost his battle with cancer.
Arnold passed away during his sleep in Florida this week, aged 74.
He was last night honoured by the Wildcats, who wore black bands on their playing singlets as a mark of respect during the game against Adelaide in their first appearance at Perth Arena.
The bands were also worn in honour of the late David Humphreys, the Arena general manager who passed away in September.
Arnold took over from Cal Bruton as coach in 1991 and led the Wildcats to a second successive championship in his first season at the helm.
He also claimed NBL Coach of the Year honours that season and remains the only Wildcats coach to have won the individual award.
Arnold’s 39-19 (67 per cent) record over two seasons at the helm of the Wildcats gave him the best winning percentage of any coach in club history and he is one of only five men to lead the club to a championship.
Former players paid tribute to Arnold, who helped shape the club during its glory years.
“It’s a sad thing to happen,” long-time captain Mike Ellis said.
“As with many of the characters that have come through the club whether they’re good, bad or indifferent, they have moulded the club to where it is now.
“He was one of those parts of the puzzle and one of only five coaches that have won a championship for the club so far.”
Arnold’s defensive style was the direct opposite to Bruton’s “run, stun and have some fun” philosophy, but brought about even better results.
The 1991 season was statistically the Wildcats’ most successful campaign in their 30-year history and the 22-4 regular season record is yet to be beaten.
Andrew Vlahov – named NBL Rookie of the Year that season – said Arnold’s defensive mindset brought about the championship.
“I was coming straight out of the college system with arguably quite a defensive focus as well, I felt like I was able to take to his system like a duck to water,” Vlahov said.
“He brought the mindset that every possession became of critical importance defensively.
“He brought that sort of detail to the team and that 1991 team built a championship off that.”
Arnold coached US high school, college and professional teams and plied his trade on three continents. He coached teams to victory in 244 NCAA Division 1 games.
It was Arnold’s dedication to the game that set him apart from the rest.
“He was very focused. He was one of those guys who was completely saturated with the game of basketball,” Vlahov said.
“He would be up all night watching film and reviewing stuff. That was his life.”