ST. PAUL, Minn. -- One of the best basketball players in Montana history has passed away.
Ed Kalafat, an Anaconda native who played professionally for the Minneapolis Lakers, died on Monday. He was 86.
Kalafat was an all-state football and basketball player at Anaconda High, accumulating 1,614 career points on the hardwood, a Copperheads record that stood for nearly 60 years before Ali Hurley, and then Braxton Hill, became the school's all-time leading scorer. Kalafat helped lead the Copperheads to the 1948 state championship before embarking on a college career at the University of Minnesota.
Kalafat played three seasons for the Gophers, appearing in 66 career games, scoring 954 career points, and earning all-Big 10 honors in 1952, 1953 and 1954. He averaged 15.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game as a sophomore to lead the team in both categories during the 1951-52 season. His scoring average dropped the next two years – to 15.5 ppg as a junior and 12.0 as a senior – but he was named the team MVP as a senior. Kalafat led the team in rebounding all three years, averaging 10.3 boards per game as a junior and 9.7 as a senior. He was a National Association of Basketball Coaches all-district choice each season. Minnesota finished third in the Big 10 all three years.
Upon leaving the Gophers, Kalafat earned the distinction of becoming Montana's highest-drafted player in the NBA or ABA. He was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 1954 ABA draft by the Minneapolis Lakers, where he played three seasons, appearing in 209 games alongside George Mikan. Kalafat averaged 4.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game as a rookie. He upped those marks each of the next two seasons to 8.0 points and 6.1 rebounds per game his second year and 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in his third season.
Kalafat reminisced about his playing days in a phone interview with MTN Sports in 2016: “I look back. Somebody says, ‘What’s your best time?’ When I was a sophomore we played Kentucky, and it was my first game. Kentucky was the defending national champion, and I ended up getting 38 points. That was a highlight. There was another game that we played Butte High School. I ended up with more points than Butte’s team totally. I think I got something like 42 points. The best game I had was against Kentucky with 38. But there was another game in Billings where at halftime, we were ahead 27-13 and all of a sudden Billings went into a stall. And I had all 27 points and ended up with about 32. You can go back and reminisce about a lot of things."