NBA at 50: Top 10 Coaches
NBA at 50:
As part of the “NBA at 50” celebration during the ’96-97 season, voters were asked to select the top 10 coaches in NBA history, without ranking them. Ten men who collectively have amassed more than 7,500 regular season wins and 33 NBA championships comprise the list of the Top Ten Coaches in NBA History, as selected by balloting among media members who regularly cover the NBA.
(Editor’s note: Coaches listed in alphabetical order.)
Red Auerbach (Celtics)
Career record: 938-479 (.662)
Playoff appearances: 19
Served 20 seasons as NBA head coach … Coach of the Year for 1964-65 … NBA 25th Anniversary All-Time team coach … Selected as the “Greatest Coach in the History of the NBA” by the PBWAA in 1980 … Elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1968.
Chuck Daly (Cavaliers, Pistons, Nets, Magic)
Career record: 638-437 (.593)
Playoff appearances: 12
Guided Detroit Pistons to victories in 1989 and 1990 NBA Finals … His teams posted winning records in 11 of 13 campaigns … Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994.
Bill Fitch (Cavaliers, Celtics, Rockets, Nets, Clippers)
Career record: 944-1106(.460)
Playoff appearances: 13
Spent 22 seasons as NBA head coach with Cleveland, Boston, Houston, New Jersey, L.A. Clippers… Guided Boston Celtics to victory in 1981 NBA Finals … Coach of the Year for 1975-76 and 1979-80.
Red Holzman (Hawks, Knicks)
Career record: 696-604(.535)
Playoff appearances: 10
Served 18 seasons as NBA head coach … Led Knicks to victory in 1970 and 1973 NBA Finals … Coach of the Year for 1969-70 … Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985.
Phil Jackson (Bulls, Lakers)
Career record: 1,155-485 (.704)
Playoff appearances: 20
Enjoyed nine successful seasons as Chicago head coach (1989-98) … Reached 400 wins in only 557 games, second-fastest to milestone in league history … His .704 career win percentage ranks No. 1 among qualifying coaches … Guided the Chicago Bulls to NBA championships in 1990-91, 1991-92, 1992-93, 1995-96, 1996-97 and 1997-98 … Spent 11 seasons as coach of the L.A. Lakers (1999-2004; 2005-11) … Led L.A. Lakers to championships in 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2001-02, 2008-09 and 2009-10 … 1995-96 Coach of the Year … Elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.
John Kundla (Lakers)
Career record: 423-302 (.583)
Playoff appearances: 10
Coached Minneapolis to five NBA championships in six seasons from 1948-49 through 1953-54 … Served 11 years as NBA head coach … His 1949-50 Minneapolis team recorded fourth-best home winning percentage in NBA history (.868/30-1) … Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.
Don Nelson (Bucks, Warriors, Knicks, Mavericks)
Career record: 1,335-1,063(.557)
Playoff appearances: 18
Spent 31 seasons as NBA head coach with Milwaukee, Golden State (twice), New York and Dallas … Ranks as the winningest coach in NBA history (1,335) … Joins Pat Riley as the only coaches ever to be named Coach of the Year three times (1982-83, 1984-85 and 1991-92) … His clubs have recorded nine 50-plus-win seasons and seven divisional championships.
Jack Ramsey (76ers, Braves, Trail Blazers, Pacers)
Career record: 864-783(.525)
Playoff appearances: 16
Served 20 years as NBA head coach … Coached 1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers to victory in NBA Finals … Elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.
Pat Riley (Lakers, Knicks, Heat)
Career record: 1,210-694(.636)
Playoff appearances: 21
Achieved 800th career win on Nov. 2, 1996, reaching the mark faster than any coach in league history … Led four L.A. Lakers teams to victory in 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988 NBA Finals … Coached Miami Heat to championship in 2005-06 … 1989-90, 1992-93 and 1996-97 Coach of the Year … Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Lenny Wilkens (SuperSonics, Trail Blazers, Cavaliers, Raptors, Knicks)
Career record: 1,332-1,155 (.636)
Playoff appearances: 20
Led 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics to championship … 1993-94 Coach of the Year … Surpassed Red Auerbach as the NBA’s winningest coach on Jan. 6, 1995 with 939th victory … Elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990 … Selected as one of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
Voters for the Top 10 Coaches in NBA History: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (player), Marv Albert (media), Al Attles (team), Red Auerbach (team), Elgin Baylor (team), Dave Bing (player), Larry Bird (team), Marty Blake (team), Fran Blinebury (media), Bill Bradley (player), Hubie Brown (team), Wilt Chamberlain (player), Mitch Chortkoff (media), Bob Cousy (player), Billy Cunningham (team), Chuck Daly (team), David DuPree (media), Wayne Embry (team), Julius Erving (player), Joe Gilmartin (media), Sam Goldaper (media), Alex Hannum (team), Lester Harrison (team), John Havlicek (player), Chick Hearn (media), Red Holzman (team), Phil Jasner (media), Earvin Johnson (player), John Kerr (player), Leonard Koppet (media), Bob Lanier (player), Frank Layden (team), Leonard Lewin (media), Jack McCallum (media), Dick McGuire (team), George Mikan (player), Bob Pettit (player), Harvey Pollack (team), Jack Ramsay (team), Willis Reed (team), Oscar Robertson (player), Bill Russell (player), Bob Ryan (media), Dolph Schayes (player), Bill Sharman (player), Gene Shue (team), Isiah Thomas (team), Wes Unseld (team), Peter Vecsey (media), Jerry West (team).