Top 10 NBA Coaches In History
According to a 2016 Fox Sports article, more than 300 men have had the distinction of being NBA coaches. However, many didn’t hold the position for long. Only a few have had careers that spanned a decade or more. While longevity is a factor when it comes to determining a great coach, you must also consider the success the coach has brought to the team. Here are the top 10 NBA coaches in history, based on how they have affected the game and its players.
10. Lenny Wilkens
Some sports fans don’t count Lenny Wilkens as one of the NBA’s greatest coaches. Don Nelson surpassed his record for coaching wins. Wilkens only earned one championship title during his 32-season career. He worked with six teams and had 11 seasons of losses. Fans also don’t think Wilkens had a specific coaching style. However, it’s possible he was so adaptive because he was once an NBA player himself. Wilkens had a calm demeanor as a coach, and was also pretty cool and collected as a basketball player. He was a nine-time All-Star. He’s also one of only three men inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a coach and player. In addition, Wilkens earned a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame three times. The first time was as a coach and the second time was as a player. The third time was for his role as an assistant coach for the 1992 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball Team.
9. Don Nelson
When the new owners of the Golden State Warriors took over the team, they pushed out Don Nelson. However, Nelson was 70 at the time, so many basketball fans felt it was probably time for him to retire. Nelson didn’t win a championship title in the 31 seasons he was a coach. However, he did do a great job with small lineups, such as Run TMC (Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin). When Nelson coached in Milwaukee, he came up with the “point forward” concept, which several teams still use. Nelson was also the first coach to embrace “hack-a-Shaq,” which makes him especially notable.
8. Jerry Sloan
It’s common knowledge many NBA coaches don’t stick around for long. However, Jerry Sloan had a career that spanned more than 22 years. He also stayed in Salt Lake City much longer than other NBA team owners. He retired a few years ago. He only had one losing season during this time and coached using a direct, no-nonsense approach. He pushed his team members to play hard, and his track record definitely contributed to his long-standing career.
7. John Kundla
John Kundla was the director of the first “dynasty” in the NBA. He led the Minneapolis Lakers to a six-year, five-championship win from 1949 to 1955. Six team members would later find themselves inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, including George Mikan and Clyde Lovellette. Many coaches who would significantly affect the game in the future took their cues from Kundla. They include Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach. They looked at how Kundla boosted morale and how he organized the team and improved on these ideas.
6. Chuck Daly
Chuck Daly went 9-32 with the Cavaliers during his first stint as head coach. Then, he lost his job halfway through the 1981-82 season. Surprisingly, the Detroit Pistons hired him two years later and Daly didn’t lose again for another 13 seasons. During these winning seasons, he coached in Detroit, New Jersey, and Orlando. Daly won titles with the Pistons in 1989 and 1990. He also helped to ensure the 1992 Dream Team played with skill without letting their egos get in the way. Unfortunately, later versions of the Dream Team didn’t always follow this protocol.
5. Larry Brown
Even though people consider Larry Brown to be one of basketball’s biggest winners, it seems he’s never satisfied. Brown has had almost 1,500 victories during his coaching stints for college, ABA, and NBA teams. Many sports fans admire the fact Brown is such a perfectionist. They look forward to seeing him frowning or looking displeased while watching his team play. He wasn’t happy with all the teams he has coached (two college and nine professional). But, it’s safe to say all these teams have improved because of his expertise and leadership. Brown is the only coach to earn an NBA and NCAA title. The first was with the Detroit Pistons in 2004 and the second was with the Kansas Jayhawks in 1988.
4. Gregg Popovich
Gregg Popovich was the San Antonio Spurs general manager in 1996 and received lots of criticism for firing Bob Hill. The main reason for this criticism is Popovich replaced Hill with someone who had no head coaching experience—himself. Years later, no one has many complaints about the decision. In 1997, Tim Duncan joined the Spurs. Popovich and Duncan formed a winning combination that sports fans couldn’t get enough of. There have been other coach-star player duos that have influenced the game before. However, Duncan and Popovich stand out among basketball fans because of their level-headed approach to the game.
3. Pat Riley
Pat Riley had a distinct look that included a tan (regardless of the time of year) and an Armani suit. He was one of the most stylish coaches in the NBA, and he was also particularly skilled. Riley showed he knew how to coach with flair during his stint with the Lakers. Then, he showed that putting a team of powerful players together is effective when he coached star players. He combined these two styles when he won his fifth championship in 2006 with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade.
2. Red Auerbach
Some avid sports fans would try to downplay Red Auerbach’s legacy. Several basketball enthusiasts argue he only won nine championships in 11 years because he was riding Bill Russell’s coattails. Some also compare Auerbach’s wins to the victories Phil Jackson achieved when he was coaching star players. However, it’s important to note Auerbach is one of the few coaches who thoroughly understood the importance of defense. He was responsible for putting together a pre-draft trade for Bill Russell. This draft has become known as the best defensive center in the NBA’s history. Auerbach also made his mark because of what he believed. He always highlighted the importance of working as a team and putting the team before self. Auerbach was also a talent evaluator for Boston for about 40 years. That makes him one of the most influential nonplayers in the game’s history.
1. Phil Jackson
Few basketball fans will argue that Phil Jackson isn’t one of the best coaches basketball has ever had. Jackson won 11 championships, but those elaborate rings are just one of the ways he stands out against other coaches. Jackson coached some of the most talented players in the NBA. He was able to manage players with huge egos and gain the respect of those who have worked with him. Jackson used unconventional methods to motivate players. Some basketball fans say not enough people appreciate the adjustments he made to his teams during the playoffs. Jackson was the coach for basketball greats, such as Kobe and Jordan. His calm demeanor made his coaching style truly unique.
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An energy industry consultant who spends a lot of time on North Sea oil rigs and conducting studies in and around the Arctic Circle. Sean started playing online casino games to compensate for long periods of boredom. In no time he turned from casual player to fan to fanatic and has since made it his mission to study the online casino universe from the players perspective. As a regular participant and contributor to Top Casino Picks, Sean sits in the Top Casino Picks advisory board and oversees our review team.
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