“Everyone who played with Dad liked that he was such a hard worker,” said his daughter Carey Kauffman of Decatur. “He was very physical on the court. He was 6-8 and held his own against some of the toughest players. No part of the game was too small for him. He was like the blue-collar worker who got the job done.”
Kauffman, who had a heart condition, died July 25 at his Lilburn home. He was 69. His funeral was Aug. 1 at Calvary Chapel in Lilburn.
Born on July 13, 1946, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Kauffman grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y. He began playing basketball in junior high school and was a starter on his high school varsity team.
From 1964 to 1968, Kauffman played forward at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., and helped put the college’s basketball program on the map, said former Guilford teammate and college basketball coach Dave Odom of Winston-Salem, N.C.
“Bob turned a program that was experiencing great difficulty winning into a program that was feared. He was an absolutely fierce competitor,” Odom said. “He loved his teammates and his college and was committed to being the best basketball player and the best student and the best person he could be.”
During his four seasons at Guilford, Kauffman earned All America and Most Valuable Player honors and helped the college win 86 games and three consecutive trips to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament. In his senior year he was named to five different All-America squads.
He was inducted into Guilford’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1973, and the college retired his jersey number, 44, in 2009.
In 1968, Kauffman graduated with a history degree and was the third overall pick by the Seattle Supersonics. He played in the NBA for seven years with four teams: Seattle, the Chicago Bulls, the Buffalo Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers) and the Atlanta Hawks.
He posted career averages of 11.5 points, seven rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, and made the All-Star team for three years while playing for Buffalo.
Struggling with an arthritic hip, he retired in 1975 after one season with the Hawks. Kauffman then served as a Hawks assistant general manager, followed by a stint as general manager and coach with the Detroit Pistons in 1977-78.
He later returned to Atlanta where he started a residential construction business and devoted time to his family.
Although Kauffman never pushed his daughters to play basketball, he encouraged them to give it their all after they expressed interest, said his daughter Lara Kauffman of Smyrna.
All four daughters went on to play varsity basketball at Brookwood High School in Gwinnett County, and, like their dad, attended college on basketball scholarships.
While their father never interfered with their high school coaches, he was quick to give the referees an earful and call out his daughters’ missteps.
“He would tell the refs to call a foul on me,” Carey said, laughing. “If I wasn’t running hard enough, he would tell me to run harder or go to the bench for a breather. He wanted us to play hard and do our best for the team.”
Their dad’s passion for excellence and work ethic had a positive impact on their academic, business and social lives, his daughters said.
“He was hard on us, but there’s a lot to be said for working hard and earning opportunities and doing it right the first time,” Lara said. “For a woman in a male-dominated business environment, I wasn’t intimidated to speak up and give my ideas.”
Kauffman also will be remembered for his kindness to people dealing with adversity or excluded by others, family and friends said.
Former neighbor Joy Kellett said Kauffman took the time to gain the trust and friendship of her special-needs son Kevin, who loved sports but disliked crowds. He would drive Kevin to high school football games and congratulate him on his wins in the Special Olympics.
“He was kind-hearted and friendly to everyone. It didn’t matter who you were,” said Kellett. “He was a big guy with a big heart for helping others.”
In addition to his daughters Carey and Lara, Kauffman is survived by his wife Judy Kauffman, daughters Joannah MacKenny of Roswell and Kate Wright of Powder Springs and 10 grandchildren.