We’ve seen hundreds of NBA coaches over the years. Some had longevity, while others had small stints, and many utterly failed. One thing we do know is how the great ones succeed. Whether it’s through their leadership style, championships or total wins, we can weed out the great ones and maybe learn a little bit about how to be the boss ourselves…
10. Lenny Wilkens
Coaching for some 32 seasons Lenny Wilkens was only able to win one championship. Throughout his career Lenny was once the NBA leader in career wins (which has since been passed by Don Nelson). One of the merits Wilkens has over many NBA coaches is that he has been inducted in the NBA Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
9. Don Nelson
Nelson spent 31 years coaching and never won the big one but Nelson’s specialty was taking limited talent and turning them into winning talent. He also was the creator of the “Nellie ball” which was an unconventional offensive strategy which created mismatches against the opposing team by outrunning their opponents.
8. Rudy Tomjanovich
A great NBA mind Rudy Tomjanovich brought greatness to an already great player in Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon and together they gained their first championship. Breaking from the old school methods of coaching Tomjanovich brought a modern coaching style to the NBA in the 90’s transforming the center position giving Olajuwon free reign from outside the paint. He was also known as “the player’s coach” because he was so relatable.
7. Chuck Daly
Inducted in the hall of fame in 1994, Chuck Daly lead the OG 1992 Dream Team back to gold after failing to win in ’88 Olympics. One stat we might forget about Daly is that on his first hiring as a coach he coached the Cleveland Cav’s to a dismal 9-32 record in his first year. He was able to bounce back with the bad boy Pistons leading them to back-to-back championships in the 1989 and 1990 NBA season. Daly went 13 seasons without a losing season, a feat only a few coaches have on their resume.
6. Larry Brown
Larry Brown is the only coach ever to win a championship in the both the NBA (Pistons in 1988) and NCAA (University of Kansas 1988). He is the only coach in NBA history to take eight different teams to the playoffs.
5. Jerry Sloan
It seems like Jerry Sloan has ALWAYS been the coach for the Utah Jazz. He outlasted his best players John Stockton and Karl Malone. Even in the prime years of Stockton and Malone when they lost back to back NBA Finals series to MJ’s Bulls, he stuck it out. Jerry coached an amazing 22 seasons with the Jazz and had one losing season.
4. Gregg Popovich
One of the biggest power moves as GM of the San Antonio Spurs, Gregg Popovich ever made was hiring himself as head coach. Then after he became one of the best coaches over the last 15 years. Four championships, eleven straight winning seasons, and Coach of the Year in 2002, there wasn’t better move in a franchise than that one.
3. Pat Riley
One of the greatest coaches in the modern era, Pat Riley brought showtime to Los Angeles with Magic Johnson, James Worthy and swing man Bryon Scott. Winning five (you could say six if count one as a GM) championships with the Lakers and one with Miami Heat in the mid-2000s. Riley brought flare to the game that has never been seen. He gave Steve Harvey a run for his money with those suits! His style and command ended up winning him three NBA Coach of the Year awards, and he only suffered one losing season in his 24-year career as a head coach.
2. Red Auerbach
Auerbach won an impressive nine championship in 11 years, including a streak of eight in a row. No other coach has come close to that accomplishment. He had a record of 823-426, giving him a winning percent of .659. He was also the first coach to draft a black player, Chuck Cooper, in 1950. He invented the blueprint when it came to winning and how it should be done. Defense was his best weapon. After spending 30 years with the Boston Celtics, Auerbach was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969.
1. Phil Jackson
Also known as the “zen master”, Jackson coached some of the greatest players of all time including Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Jackson currently reigns as the NBA coach with the most titles and has a win percentage of over .700. He may have had some of the best talents of all but what made him great as a coach he was able to bring greatness from his players.
Life Lessons to Learn from the Coaches:
- Think outside the paint — If Don Nelson wouldn’t have created the “Nellie ball” strategy, he might not have been on the list. Just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done.
- Be relatable - That doesn’t mean be a pushover, but learn how to relate to others so they will give you their maximum potential so you can reach yours.
- Be persistent - Chuck Daly was fired from the Caveliers and went on to coach the Dream Team to gold. Imagine if he gave up?
- Create new opportunities – Larry Brown coached eight different teams to the playoffs and supposedly was always looking for another job while he worked his most current one.
- Channel your inner coach – You can’t be stressed all of the time. Phil Jackson incorporated Native American practices into his daily routine so he could be more centered on the court.
- Take risks - Gregg Popovich’s team might not have won if he didn’t make himself head coach. It was a risky move that turned out for the better.
- Psych you out - Red Auerbach told his players to trash talk their opponents and use psychological warfare to get inside of their heads so his team could succeed.
- Consistency is key – Jerry Sloan coached the Jazz for over 20 years because he loved it and he was good at it. If it ain’t broke…
- Be yourself - Pat Riley dressed like he was am extra out of Casino for YEARS because it was his style and accepted criticism. Did it matter? Not really because he a winner.
- Teamwork makes the dream work - Red Auerbach didn’t play his players as individuals, he made them play collectively as a team to get the job done effectively. How else do you win seven championships without one of your players in the top 10 for scorers?
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