Wheaton College’s rich history in education and athletics attracted prospective students to the school for over a hundred years. The only problem with so many historic events surrounding the school is that stories often slip through the hands of those who are supposed to pass them on to the next generation.
In Randy Pfund’s case, this should never happen. His incredible story deserves to be told again and again and remembered by current students and alumni alike.
Before being a highly-touted recruit, before setting numerous school records and before winning multiple NBA Championships, he was simply Randy — the son of legendary Wheaton College baseball and basketball head coach Lee Pfund and the little brother of basketball players John and Kerry. He had a “magical childhood,” during which he explored the 1950s version of Wheaton College’s campus.
Pfund talked about crawling “about half the buildings” on Wheaton’s campus while they were undergoing construction.
His father, Lee Pfund, became the Wheaton College men’s basketball head coach at Randy’s birth, and so he indoctrinated his son into the world of sports at a young age. Pfund remembered watching the parade when his father’s team won a national championship in 1957.
“The great thing about being in a coaching family,” Pfund said, “is that you get to hang out at the gym and get in early and stay late.”
After a dazzling career at Wheaton North High School in both football and basketball, Pfund received Division I offers for both sports. But after he saw the size of the fullbacks that he would be tackling if he accepted one of his Big Ten offers, Pfund decided that basketball would offer him a bit more playing longevity.
After watching his brothers shine as members of Wheaton’s basketball team — John is fifth on Wheaton’s all-time scoring list and Kerry is 34th — Randy grew attached to the idea of committing to play basketball at Wheaton. Even though UCLA, Indiana University and the University of Illinois came knocking, their Division I status didn’t outweigh the benefits of playing for his father.
Plus, after only being able to play with Kerry for one season in high school, the opportunity to compete for a national championship with his brother was too tempting for Pfund to pass up.
For Pfund, the decision to stay close to home and play for his father proved to be a good one as he finished in the top 10 of numerous program records. In 1971, Pfund’s freshman year, he and his brother combined to lift Wheaton to a 17-7 record. This was Wheaton’s best finish from Pfund’s four years playing for the school.
He graduated in eighth place on Wheaton’s career points list, first place in career assists, fifth in career field goals and a career point average of 17.1 points per game.
During his time at the college, Pfund had a job as a laundry boy for the Chicago Bulls and would drive to the stadium to wash the players’ jerseys, laying them out before games.
While this wouldn’t be his last NBA occupation, it might have seemed like it after graduating. Pfund was unable to find a collegiate coaching position right out of college, so he taught at local high school, Glenbard South.
The fact that his father was a legendary area coach did little for Pfund, and he was became the freshman ‘B’ team coach at the high school. After three years, Pfund decided to try his luck at colleges once again.
The rejection letters piled up day after day, but then one day — a breakthrough. Chet Kammerer, who would later become vice president of the Miami Heat, was the head coach at Westmont College and offered Pfund a volunteer coaching position. Ignoring the advice of his friends, Pfund left the safety of his tenured teaching position to take the job at Westmont.
During his eight years coaching at Westmont, Pfund met Bill Bertka, an assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers. Impressed by Pfund’s hard-working mentality, Bertka later recommended Pfund for an opening on the Lakers’ coaching staff. After a notable interview with Pat Riley, a future Hall-of-Famer and the Lakers head coach at the time, Pfund was hired.
“It was quite the lucky break to not only go from college basketball to the NBA, but from not even the highest level of college basketball to the Lakers who had won a championship the year before I arrived,” Pfund said.
While working for seven years as Riley’s assistant, Pfund helped the Lakers win two championships in 1987 and 1988 — the first time an NBA team had won back-to-back championships in 20 years. Riley left his coaching post after 1990 and his replacement, Mike Dunleavy, was only with the Lakers for two years. Looking to replace Dunleavy internally, the Lakers interviewed their assistants for the head coaching position, including Pfund.
Even though he didn’t have head coaching experience, Pfund’s charisma and knowledge of the game wowed Lakers’ management. The hired Pfund and made him the head coach of one of the NBA’s most storied franchises from 1992-1994, allowing him to compile a record of 66-80 and lead the team to their 17th consecutive postseason berth.
After taking a break for a year, Riley hired Pfund as the director of player personnel of the Miami Heat. In just a year, Pfund rose to be the general manager of the team, a position he held for 12 years. He was part of the front office responsible for drafting superstar guard Dwyane Wade and all-star Caron Butler.
He also helped the Heat grab stars such as Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton, Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning. The Heat had some of their biggest successes under Pfund’s watch, including the franchise’s first NBA Championship in 2006. Two years later, Pfund retired to California, where he currently resides.
“I always tell people I left when LeBron (James) came since they couldn’t afford to pay both of us,” Pfund joked.
Wheaton’s effect on Pfund’s life is unmistakable. He still keeps up with Wheaton sports — especially the basketball and baseball teams — even though he lives a couple thousand miles away. He also makes it a priority to make it back to Wheaton’s campus a few times a year for homecoming and sporting events.
“I met most of my key friends for life at Wheaton and I’m still buddies with six or seven guys I went to class with and lived with,” Pfund explained. “Even after 24 years in the NBA, those Wheaton guys are still my best friends.”
Pfund’s name lives on at Wheaton and not just because it is in the Hall of Honor four times (thanks to his father and siblings). It’s due to hours of relentless work and nights of lost sleep so that he could climb one of the most treacherous coaching ladders in the nation — the NBA’s. The prize? Something almost every coach across the country would love to have. Against all odds, the assistant coach of a high school freshman ‘B’ team was able to grind his way to the top-dog spot of the 16-time NBA Champions.
“For me, there is little doubt that the education and faith aspect of Wheaton has served me well in my business and coaching situations,” said Pfund. “I am just very, very thankful for my education, teachers and friends at Wheaton.”