We are reader-supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.Β Learn more.

Debating with your friends who’s the best Basketball coach?

Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach or Gregg Popovich?

Here is our list of the best Basketball coaches of all time.

Do you agree with our picks?

Best Basketball Coaches:

  1. Phil Jackson
  2. Red Auerbach
  3. Gregg Popovich
  4. Pat Riley
  5. Chuck Daly
  6. Larry Brown
  7. Don Nelson
  8. Lenny Wilkens
  9. Jerry Sloan
  10. John Wooden
  11. Rick Pitino

#1 Phil Jackson

  • πŸ† Achievements: 11 NBA Championships as a coach
  • πŸ“… Years Active: 1989–2011
  • πŸ‘• Teams Coached: Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers
  • 🌐 Nationality: American

Phil Jackson, often referred to as “The Zen Master,” is one of the most successful coaches in NBA history with a record 11 championships as a head coach. Having coached the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers, his innovative approach to coaching and unique philosophy garnered widespread attention.

His Triangle offense and use of mindfulness techniques to improve player focus and teamwork allowed him to guide the Bulls to six NBA championships and the Lakers to five. Jackson’s coaching style emphasized unity, mindfulness, and the relentless pursuit of excellence.

His success was also due in part to his ability to manage the egos of some of the game’s greatest players, such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant, molding them into cohesive championship-winning teams.

#2 Red Auerbach

  • πŸ† Achievements: 9 NBA Championships as a coach
  • πŸ“… Years Active: 1946–1966
  • πŸ‘• Teams Coached: Washington Capitols, Tri-Cities Blackhawks, Boston Celtics
  • 🌐 Nationality: American

Arnold “Red” Auerbach is a towering figure in professional basketball history, having led the Boston Celtics to nine NBA championships as a coach, including a remarkable eight in a row from 1959 to 1966. His tenure set the stage for the Celtics’ storied legacy.

Auerbach is recognized for revolutionizing the game of basketball, having introduced the fast break as a potent offensive weapon. He was also a pioneer in breaking color barriers in the NBA by drafting the first African-American player and appointing the first African-American head coach in league history.

Auerbach’s accomplishments extend beyond the court. He served as a mentor for future generations of coaches and executives and was well-respected for his sharp basketball mind and fierce competitive spirit.

#3 Gregg Popovich

  • πŸ† Achievements: 5 NBA Championships as a coach
  • πŸ“… Years Active: 1996–Present
  • πŸ‘• Teams Coached: San Antonio Spurs
  • 🌐 Nationality: American

Gregg Popovich, the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, is widely celebrated for his leadership and strategic acumen. Under his tutelage, the Spurs have secured five NBA championships and consistently performed as one of the league’s elite teams.

Popovich is known for his focus on team basketball, disciplined execution, and a culture of selflessness. These principles have led the Spurs to sustained success and have been credited with influencing the modern NBA’s team-oriented approach.

Beyond basketball, Popovich is recognized for his outspokenness on social and political issues and his commitment to developing players not just as athletes, but as individuals with diverse interests and strong character.

#4 Pat Riley

  • πŸ† Achievements: 5 NBA Championships as a coach
  • πŸ“… Years Active: 1981–2008
  • πŸ‘• Teams Coached: Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Miami Heat
  • 🌐 Nationality: American

Pat Riley is one of the most iconic figures in NBA coaching, having secured five championships during his celebrated career. His “Showtime” Lakers of the 1980s introduced a glamorous and fast-paced style of play that captured the imagination of basketball fans worldwide.

While his time with the Lakers was marked by offensive brilliance, his tenure with the New York Knicks and later the Miami Heat displayed his versatility as a coach, with a focus on tough, physical defense.

Riley’s success continued off the court, where he has been influential as an executive and team builder, playing a key role in shaping the Heat into perennial contenders.

#5 Chuck Daly

  • πŸ† Achievements: 2 NBA Championships as a coach
  • πŸ“… Years Active: 1981–1999
  • πŸ‘• Teams Coached: Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic
  • 🌐 Nationality: American

Chuck Daly is best known for his role as the head coach of the Detroit Pistons during the “Bad Boys” era, where he led the franchise to consecutive NBA championships in 1989 and 1990. His Pistons teams were celebrated for their aggressive and physical style of defense.

Daly’s coaching philosophy was centered on toughness, resilience, and a team-first attitude that helped galvanize his players into a cohesive and formidable unit. These qualities made his Pistons one of the most feared teams of their time.

In addition to his NBA accomplishments, Daly also coached the original “Dream Team” to an Olympic gold medal in 1992, solidifying his legacy as one of basketball’s greatest coaches.

#6 Larry Brown

  • πŸ† Achievements: 1 NBA Championship; 1 NCAA Championship
  • πŸ“… Years Active: 1972–Present
  • πŸ‘• Teams Coached: Carolina Cougars, Denver Nuggets, UCLA Bruins, New Jersey Nets, Kansas Jayhawks, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Charlotte Bobcats, SMU Mustangs
  • 🌐 Nationality: American

Larry Brown is the only coach in basketball history to win both an NCAA championship and an NBA championship, highlighting his adaptability and deep understanding of the game. His tenure with the Detroit Pistons culminated in an NBA championship in 2004.

Known as a “basketball purist,” Brown emphasized fundamental gameplay and a commitment to defense throughout his varied coaching career. His passion for teaching the game is evidenced by his extensive coaching rΓ©sumΓ© across both college and professional levels.

Brown’s success is also marked by his ability to improve and bring the best out of various teams. Despite occasional controversies, his legacy as a coach is celebrated for his strong emphasis on teamwork and basketball IQ.

#7 Don Nelson

  • πŸ† Achievements: NBA Coach of the Year 3 times
  • πŸ“… Years Active: 1976–2010
  • πŸ‘• Teams Coached: Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks
  • 🌐 Nationality: American

Don Nelson, recognized for his innovative basketball strategies, is one of the winningest coaches in NBA history. While he did not win an NBA championship as a coach, his impact on the game is significant through his contributions to offensive tactics.

Nelson was a proponent of “small ball,” a playing style that uses smaller, more versatile lineups to create mismatches and push the tempo of the game. This approach has become increasingly popular in the modern NBA.

His tenure with multiple teams showcased his ability to adapt to his roster and innovate, as reflected in his receiving the NBA Coach of the Year award three times throughout his career.

#8 Lenny Wilkens

  • πŸ† Achievements: 1 NBA Championship as a coach; NBA Coach of the Year
  • πŸ“… Years Active: 1969–2005
  • πŸ‘• Teams Coached: Seattle SuperSonics, Portland Trail Blazers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks
  • 🌐 Nationality: American

Lenny Wilkens is not only a Hall of Fame player but also a celebrated coach, having led the Seattle SuperSonics to an NBA championship in 1979. His career on the sidelines was marked by an intelligent and player-focused approach to coaching.

Wilkens is lauded for his calm and composed demeanor, as well as his ability to communicate effectively with his players. This skill set helped him to successfully manage teams over several decades in the NBA.

His coaching achievements include being named the NBA Coach of the Year in 1994 and earning a gold medal as the head coach of the USA basketball team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

#9 Jerry Sloan

  • πŸ† Achievements: 2 NBA Finals appearances
  • πŸ“… Years Active: 1978–2011
  • πŸ‘• Teams Coached: Chicago Bulls, Utah Jazz
  • 🌐 Nationality: American

Jerry Sloan is best remembered for his long and successful tenure with the Utah Jazz, where he molded the team into a perennial playoff contender and twice reached the NBA Finals. His coaching career is emblematic of consistency and fortitude.

With a work ethic that was second to none, Sloan’s teams were characterized by their tough defense and methodical execution of the pick-and-roll offense, helmed by Hall of Famers Karl Malone and John Stockton.

Although he never clinched an NBA championship, Sloan left an indelible mark on the game. His incredible longevity with the Jazz established him as one of the most respected and stable figures in the history of NBA coaching.

#10 John Wooden

  • πŸ† Achievements: 10 NCAA National Championships
  • πŸ“… Years Active: 1946–1975
  • πŸ‘• Teams Coached: Indiana State, UCLA Bruins
  • 🌐 Nationality: American

John Wooden, known as the “Wizard of Westwood,” is arguably the most successful coach in the history of college basketball. His tenure at UCLA was unparalleled, winning 10 NCAA national championships in a 12-year period, including an unprecedented seven in a row.

Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success” philosophy has become a cornerstone in the sports world and beyond, emphasizing the development of character, leadership, and personal excellence.

His profound impact on the game and his players transcends sports, leaving a legacy that encompasses educating and inspiring individuals to reach their utmost potential both on and off the court.

#11 Rick Pitino

  • πŸ† Achievements: 2 NCAA National Championships
  • πŸ“… Years Active: 1974–Present
  • πŸ‘• Teams Coached: Hawaii, Boston University, Providence College, New York Knicks, Kentucky, Boston Celtics, Louisville, Panathinaikos, Iona
  • 🌐 Nationality: American

Rick Pitino stands out as one of the most energetic and forward-thinking basketball coaches. He has achieved success at both the college and professional levels, particularly known for winning two NCAA championships with different schools: Kentucky (1996) and Louisville (2013), although the latter was later vacated due to NCAA violations.

His coaching style is characterized by a high-pressure defensive system and a fast-paced offense. Pitino’s ability to adapt to the strengths of his players and to maintain high levels of intensity has often translated into success.

Despite controversies, including NCAA violations that led to sanctions and the vacating of records, Pitino’s influence on the game and his capacities as a basketball coach are well recognized, as he continues to coach and contribute to the sport.

Understanding the strategies of top coaches can be as crucial as knowing the basics, such as basketball positions and roles.

FAQ

Who is the greatest basketball coach of all time?

Phil Jackson is often considered the greatest basketball coach of all time, securing 11 NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.

Who was the most successful basketball coach?

John Wooden is the most successful basketball coach, having won 10 NCAA national championships with UCLA in a 12-year period.

Meet Rev, one of our dedicated team members who embodies the essence of sports passion. When he’s not immersed in the world of sports content creation, Rev is busy honing his skills in esports and exploring the great outdoors through activities like hiking and basketball.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments