Basketball: Legendary NZ men's coach Steve McKean dies of cancer

If you've spent any time at all around NZ basketball, you'll at least know of the man simply known as 'Coach'.

American-born Steve McKean was indisputably the most influential figure in the 'sleeping giant' sport during the 1970s & 1980s, guiding the New Zealand men to the seemingly impossible - a first-ever victory over Australia in 1978.

Long after he coached his last game, McKean remained a revered within the basketball community and wider sporting family, through his role as Sport Taranaki regional sports director and secondary school sports co-ordinator.

The 'Coach' has left the stadium, passing away in New Plymouth, after a short battle with cancer.

McKean came to New Zealand half a century ago to play and coach at Auckland's Panmure club, and was known for his prodigious shooting range at a time before three-point arcs even existed.

For nine years, from 1972-81, he coached a national men's team captained by 'Judge' John Macdonald and featuring Kiwi colossus Stan Hill. 

With Hill as his centrepiece, McKean led DB Auckland to the inaugural National Basketball League title in 1982 and defended that crown the following year.

Steve McKean reminisces with former NZ basketball stars John Macdonald & Stan Hill
Steve McKean reminisces with former NZ basketball stars John Macdonald & Stan Hill. Photo credit: Getty

He was named NZ Basketball Coach of the Year in 1978, after the historic win over Australia - and then again 24 years later. McKean was also 1992 NBL Coach of the Year with New Plymouth Bears, becoming the first coach to 100 wins in the national competition.

He was awarded the NZ Order of Merit in 2012 for services to sport, received a lifetime achievement award at the 2016 NZ Sport & Recreation Awards and was an inaugural inductee to the Basketball New Zealand Hall of Fame that same year.

Courtside, McKean could come across as a gruff taskmaster, but he had a heart of gold, quick with a wink and an encouraging word - one of sport's real gentlemen.

He is survived by wife Rachel and family, and will be missed.