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Ernie Vandeweghe dies at 86; NBA player became the Lakers' team doctor

Ernie Vandeweghe dies at 86; NBA player became the Lakers' team doctor
Ernie Vandeweghe, shown in his uniform in 1947, was drafted from Colgate University by the New York Knicks. While he played in the NBA, he attended medical school, eventually becoming the Lakers' team physician. (Associated Press)

Ernie Vandeweghe, who attended medical school while playing for the New York Knicks and later served as the Lakers' team doctor, has died. He was 86.

Vandeweghe died Sunday at home in Newport Beach of natural causes, according to his son, Kiki, who was a basketball star at UCLA and in the NBA before becoming a general manager and coach.

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Born Ernest Maurice Vandeweghe Jr. in Montreal on Sept. 12, 1928, he grew up on New York's Long Island. Drafted by the Knicks in 1949 from Colgate University, where he was All-America, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard and small forward averaged 9.5 points and 2.4 assists per game in six seasons.

"I was very active on the court," Vandeweghe told The Times in 1980 while describing his style of play. "I got in everyone's way. I was the kind of guy who annoyed the hell out of everyone."

He was very active off the court too, attending medical school at Columbia University during his first few years in the NBA.

To stay in shape he would run up flights of stairs, noting in a 1981 interview with the New York Times that some of his classes were on the 18th floor at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. He skipped some road trips and kept up a hectic travel schedule getting to Knick games on the East Coast while studying medicine.

After being sidelined by a knee injury, Vandeweghe played his last NBA games in the 1955-56 season, then practiced as a pediatrician and served as an Air Force doctor in Germany.

He and his wife, Colleen Hutchins Vandeweghe, who had been Miss America of 1952, moved to the Los Angeles area, and he continued his medical practice as they raised their four children.

When the Lakers moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960, owner Bob Short hired Vandeweghe to be team physician. The doctor also advised Short to put Chick Hearn on the payroll as radio play-by-play announcer, establishing a team tradition that lasted for 42 years until Hearn's death in 2002.

Vandeweghe's wife of 57 years died in 2010. Besides son Kiki, who played forward for Denver, Portland, New York and the Clippers in the NBA, Vandeweghe's survivors include daughters Tauna Vandeweghe, a U.S. Olympic swimmer and volleyball player, and Heather Vandeweghe Shannon, who played on the U.S. women's polo team; and son Bruk, a professional beach volleyball player. Among Vandeweghe's grandchildren is another world-class athlete, Coco Vandeweghe, who competes on the women's professional tennis tour.

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