Looking back on the best NBA coaches of all time is a fun way to appreciate the game we love. It’s amazing to think about how much these coaches have impacted the sport and the players who play it. Whether you’re a fan of old-school coaching or prefer the new wave, there’s no denying that these 10 men have made a significant impact on basketball.
Top 10 Best NBA Coaches Of All Time
There are many great NBA coaches, but only 10 can be considered the best of all time. Here are those coaches, in no particular order:
- Phil Jackson
when talking about the best NBA coaches of all time, Phil Jackson is one of them. Phil Jackson is one of the most successful coaches in NBA history. He has won 11 championships with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, making him the most decorated coach in league history.
Jackson’s coaching style is heavily influenced by Eastern religions, to which he was first introduced during his tenure as a New York Knicks player. With the Bulls and Lakers, Jackson used lessons from his spiritual guides to help him cultivate talent and bring out the best in his players.
“Basketball,” Jackson once said, “is an allegory for how we conduct our lives.”
2. Pat Riley
Pat Riley coached the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks before becoming the Miami Heat’s President of Basketball Operations in 1995. Few coaches have been able to win at such a high level without playing experience — even fewer have been able to transition into front office roles after their coaching careers end.
But that’s just what Riley did. As president, he put together the team that won three consecutive championships in 2012-14. And all of this after spending years away from the game.
“We are willing to work harder than anybody else,” Riley said when asked about his success in Miami. “It’s not magic or luck.”
3. Gregg Popovich
Gregg Popovich has been coaching the San Antonio Spurs since 1996, winning five NBA titles along the way. He is widely considered one of the best coaches in league history because of his long tenure and unmatched consistency.
Popovich also serves as Team USA’s head coach, winning gold medals at both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics. His win over Serbia in 2014 was Team USA’s first World Cup championship.
“I’ve always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that,” said Popovich, referencing the frequency with which black players are subjected to unfair treatment by police officers. “It’s our country and we’ve been given a lot of freedom, but there is some responsibility that goes with it.”
4. Red Auerbach
Red Auerbach coached the Washington Capitals in 1946 before joining the Celtics in 1950. He would go on to be where he made his name — winning nine NBA titles along the way.
One of his favorite moves was drafting future Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell, who went on to become one of the greatest centers in league history thanks to Auerbach’s tutelage and defensive strategies.
Auerbach was known for his quick wit and cigar smoking, which he did on the sidelines of Celtics games. He even lit a victory cigar in the locker room after winning the 1966 NBA Finals.
“I’m not a genius,” Auerbach once said. “I’m just ahead of the game.”
5. John Wooden
John Wooden is one of the most well-respected coaches in all sports. He coached UCLA to 10 NCAA championships between 1964 and 1975, including an 88-game winning streak from 1971 to 1974.
Wooden’s philosophy was based on four principles: basketball is a team game, effort counts more than ability, be prepared and have fun.
He was also one of the first coaches to emphasize the importance of strength and conditioning.
“It’s not so important who starts the game,” Wooden said, “but who finishes it.”
6. Chuck Daly
Chuck Daly coached the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic before taking over as head coach of the Dream Team in 1992. The team went on to win the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics, making Daly one of only two coaches to win an NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal.
Daly was known for his defensive mindset and ability to get the most out of his players. He was also a master motivator, which is evident in this quote: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
7. Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson is one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, winning 11 championships with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. He is also the author of several books, including Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior.
Jackson’s coaching style was based on mindfulness and self-awareness. He believed that basketball was an allegory for how we conduct our lives and that by learning to control our thoughts and emotions, we could be more successful on and off the court.
“Basketball is not about what you do once in a while,” Jackson said, “it’s about what you do day in and day out.”
8. Lenny Wilkens
Lenny Wilkens is one of the most successful coaches in league history, winning 1,332 games and nine NBA titles. He was named Coach of the Year three times (1972, 1979, and 1994) and also served as an executive for several teams after retiring from coaching.
Wilkens was known for his ability to be a good communicator with both his players and other members of the organization. This paid off during his time in Seattle when he coached a young Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton to an unexpected level of success.
“How you do anything,” Wilkens once said, “is how you do everything.”
9. Gregg Popovich
Gregg Popovich has been coaching the San Antonio Spurs since 1996 with five NBA championships along the way. He is the longest-tenured coach in the NBA and one of the most successful, making him one of the most respected coaches in all the sports.
Popovich is known for his demanding coaching style and his use of analytics to help his team win. He also has a great sense of humor, which he often uses to motivate his players.
“If you want to make your dreams come true,” Popovich said, “you have to stay awake.”
10. Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick is the head coach of the New England Patriots, who have appeared in nine Super Bowls during his tenure with five wins. He is considered by many to be the greatest coach in NFL history.
Belichick’s coaching philosophy was shaped by his time working under Bill Parcells, one of the most successful coaches in NFL history. He is known for being able to take away an opponent’s strength and force them into making mistakes.
“There is no substitute for hard work,” Belichick said during Super Bowl XXXVI. “It will make you tough, both physically and mentally.”
The best of the best are all retired coaches that have won championships. They had to be great at motivating their players and keeping them focused on winning games, not just giving up when things went wrong. If you want your team to win more often this season, consider hiring a new coach or bringing in an expert for some training sessions with your staff members.
I am extremely passionate about basketball. I grew up playing basketball since childhood. As part of my life, I’ve started to write about all things basketball.