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Who are the best NBA coaches of all time?

Phil Jackson and Jerry Buss at the Ceremony Honoring Los Angeles Lakers Owner Jerry Buss

Who’d be a coach? Sure, you get appreciation from those close to you and might take satisfaction from developing players and moulding a great team but the hassle that comes with it is huge. For starters, it’s a 24/7 job and then there is the pressure. 

After all, you never see a team of players getting sacked and it’s always they who get lauded when things go well. With that in mind, we’re going to take a moment to honour the best NBA coaches of all time.

Number 5. Lenny Wilkens

Kicking off our top five is Lenny Wilkens. Longevity in elite sport isn’t easily achieved but Wilkens managed it. He first started as a player and then moved into coaching where he displayed a great staying power over a 36-year stint as head coach with six different teams in the NBA. 

Wilkens only has the solitary NBA Championship to his name – from his success in 1979 with the Seattle SuperSonics – but four Coach of the Year awards recognise his contribution to the game. Also, it’s hard to ignore the first ever coach to break the 1,000-win mark. In total, Wilkens oversaw 1,332 wins the regular season with another 80 coming in the playoffs. You simply can’t knock it.

Number 4. Pat Riley

Riley can potentially count himself hard done by to only be fourth on our list. For starters he has five Championships in his honours list having triumphed with the Lakers and Miami Heat. What’s more remarkable is the time between those successes. 

Riley’s Lakers side were the stars of the eighties winning four titles between 1982 and 1988 but his glory with the Heat wouldn’t come until some 18 years later

Throughout his 24-season coaching career Riley had just three losing seasons, all of which came in his last five years in Miami. With nearly 2,200 games coached a win rate of 63.2% makes impressive reading. The fact he’s overseen another two Championship wins as an executive with the Heat is proof of his knowledge of the sport.

Number 3. Red Auerbach

Where paper records are concerned, Auerbach boasts a history that stands up to the best of them. He previously held the most wins for a NBA coach with 938 regular seasons wins to his name and led the Boston Celtics to nine Championships with eight of them coming back to back during the late fifties and early sixties. The Celtics were next to immovable during that era.

Basketball isn’t all about what the statistics tell you though and Auerbach stacks up well elsewhere too. 

He wasn’t afraid to test the waters with new ideas and whilst moves to bring more African Americans into the sport were rightly lauded as great moves it was his tactical innovation that really set him apart.

Number 2. Gregg Popovich

If you can’t be heralded as on of the best NBA coaches of all time when you have more game wins than anyone else in the history of the sport then when can you? Popovich has been with the San Antonio Spurs since 1996 and has an impressive 66.5% win ratio from 2,175 matches.

The former national team boss isn’t just about racking up wins with nothing to show for it though. The Spurs have won five NBA Championships in their 53 history and Popovich has been the mastermind behind every single one of their triumphs. 

Number 1. Phil Jackson

It’s so easy to look at Jackson’s record and point to the superstars he had playing for him but that is an almighty slap in the face to the man who helped nurture those players and knitted them into not only winning teams but absolutely dominant ones. 

Jackson spent a decade with the Chicago Bulls and delivered six NBA Championships in that time before producing a similar level of genius in Los Angeles with five Championships over a 11-year spell. That gives him a combined 11 titles, which is more than any other coach has amassed whilst his all-time record of 1,384-589 makes spectacular reading.

There you have it, the five best coaches in NBA history! If you’re after a more comprehensive view check out this top 30 by the experts at BetAmerica:

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