May 3, 2023 | Blog

A Guide to the Best NBA Basketball Coaches of All Time

The NBA has 30 teams. This makes 30 basketball coaches. Over the years, some coaches come, some go, and some stay.
What will never change is the best basketball coaches of all time. When you read this list, you will understand why there are some tough shoes to fill if anyone should try to replace them.

What will never change is the best basketball coaches of all time. When you read this list, you will understand why there are some tough shoes to fill if anyone should try to replace them.

Phil Jackson

If you want to discuss the best NBA coaches, you could not have a complete list without the great Phil Jackson. With winning championships, no one comes close. In the history of the NBA, Phil Jackson holds the most winnings, with 11 titles on his resume and a postseason record of 229-104.
With the Chicago Bulls, Phil Jackson won two three-peats in the 1990s. Then, in the 2000s, he won one three-peat with the Lakers. In 2009 and 2010, he also won back-to-back titles with the Lakers.

It wasn’t just championships; he was a master of coaching the regular season too. Jackson holds a record of 1155-486 (.704).
His best season was with the Chicago Bulls in the 1995-1996 season, finishing with a 72-10 record. For records, that’s the second-best regular season in NBA history.

Regarding the best basketball coaches of all time, Jackson deserves a first-place spot. He has coached some of the greatest basketball players and Hall of Famers, including Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, and Dennis Rodman.

Gregg Popovich

The amazing Gregg Popovich is the next notable mention of the best NBA coach. He is still an active head coach for the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich surpassed Don Nelson in the 2021-2022 season for the number one spot in coaching wins.

Popovich has the all-time basketball game record for most coaching wins. In the postseason, Popovich led the Spurs to the playoffs for 22 seasons in a row. They won five championships.

He has coached some of the best basketball players, including Tim Duncan and David Robinson. On his coaching staffing, Popovich has worked with Monty Williams, Steve Kerr, Taylor Jenkins, Ime Udoka, and Mike Budenholzer.

Red Auerbach

Auerbach led one of the best dynasties in NBA history as coach of the Celtics from 1957-1959. Red Auerbach helped the Boston Celtics win nine of eleven championships during that era. From 1959 to 1966, this includes eight straight titles.

Red Auerbach was a tremendous challenge for other NBA teams in the regular season and playoffs. His record for the regular season was 823-426, while his playoff record was 91-60. In 1965, he was given the distinguished home of the NBA Coach of the Year.

Pat Riley

A well-earned title to be mentioned among the great NBA coaches, Pat Riley has a reputation for leveraging his player’s strengths. As a coach, he adapted to them, applying strategies and styles that fit them. For this reason, Coach Riley won five NBA championships.

Further, Pat Riley earned three Coach of the Year awards. The Showtime Lakers of the 1980s were one of the best dynasties ever, and at the helm, Pat Riley was leading them. Riley brought four titles to Los Angeles by maximizing the talent of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

After Los Angeles, and 20 years later, Riley won more titles with the Heat. Riley expanded upon the talents of the duo Shaquille O’Neal and Dwayne Wade.

Steve Kerr

Since Steve Kerr won four championships with the Warriors, he deserves a place among the greatest NBA coaches ever. While he has fewer years of coaching than other great NBA coaches, he is no stranger to winning teams. Kerr won three championship titles with the Chicago Bulls and two more with the San Antonio Spurs.

Steve Kerr is a four-time NBA champion. Kerr is a former Coach of the Year, too. Since he is still young in his coaching career, we can expect many more accomplishments from Steve Kerr.

Larry Brown

With a reputation for transforming losing teams into playoff contenders, Larry Brown has tremendously impacted the NBA basketball game. Brown has over 2,000 games throughout his coaching career and won 1,327 of them. He has a winning percentage of .568.

Larry Brown has a playoff record of 120-115. In 2001, he won Coach of the Year. Coach Brown is the only coach in NBA history to take home an NBA championship and an NCAA title.

Notable players under his wings over the years include Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Chuck Daly

The Pistons proudly rose to the top after the 1980s rivalry between the Lakers and the Celtics. They had a nickname, the “Bad Boys,” due to their rugged and physical playing style. Chuck Daly was their mastermind.

In 1989 and 1990, Chuck Daly led Detroit to win back-to-back championships. He coached notable players, including Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Dennis Rodman.

Many people remember Chuck Daly for coaching the original 1992 Dream Team. Coach Daly holds a record of 638-437 for the regular season and, in the postseason, a record of 75-51.

Red Holzman

In 1970 when Red Holzman coached New York, it was a city of champions! He was coaching when the franchise won only two championships, in 1970 and 1973. Coach Holzman proudly boasted a regular season record of 696-603 and 58-47 for the postseason.

Before calling New York his home, Red Holzman coached in other cities too. However, he was forever in the record books as one of the best while spending time with the New York Knicks. Holzman was a coach for the Knicks for 14 straight seasons.

In 1970, Red Holzman won the well-deserved honor of Coach of the Year.

Lenny Wilkens

A magnificent former NBA player, Lenny Wilkens became a well-renowned NBA coach. During his years as a player, he was a nine-time All-Star. He averaged 16.5 points, 6.7 assists, and 4.7 rebounds throughout his career.

Lenny Wilkens coached numerous franchises, including the Blazers, Cavaliers, Hawks, Raptors, and Sonics. For 20 different seasons, he brought their franchises to the playoffs.

Coach Wilkens is the third-best in all-time wins for the regular season, with 1,332 wins under his leadership. In 1979, he coached the Sonics, who won the NBA championship. In 1994, he won Coach of the Year with the Hawks.

Jerry Sloan

Many NBA fans remember Jerry Sloan as a brilliant player. Most famously, people remember him for playing with the Chicago Bulls. Throughout his career as an NBA player, Sloan averaged 14 points, 2.5 assists, and 7.4 rebounds.

Further, Jerry Sloan proudly carries the title of a two-time All-Star. Not to mention he was also a six-time All-Defensive selection.

Right after Sloan’s time playing for the Chicago Bulls, he chose to begin coaching. He is a legend for his time coaching for the Jazz. Jerry Sloan coached the Jazz for 23 straight seasons, proudly picking up 1,221 wins.

The Jazz made the playoffs under the direction of Jerry Sloan for 15 straight seasons. Sloan coached some of the greatest players in the NBA, including Karl Malone and John Stockton. If Michael Jordan had not been in the NBA, Coach Sloan might have snagged at least one championship for the Jazz.

Don Nelson

While Don Nelson did not coach a team that won a championship, he still has a record as one of the winningest NBA coaches. Nelson won 1,335 of 2,398 with his time coaching in the NBA. This goes on record as the second-highest regular season wins for an all-time NBA coach.

Most memorable is the time Don Nelson spent coaching the We Believe Warriors. It was during this time that Nelson led the way for the Warriors, who were eight-seeded, to win against the first-seeded Mavericks in a major upset.

Even without the success of winning the playoffs, Don Nelson is decorated as a three-time Coach of the Year.

John Kundla

Before Kundla became an excellent NBA coach, he began his greatness in the BAA. John Kundla was the head coach of the Minneapolis Lakers, the first-ever dynasty, from 1949 to 1959.

Coach Kundla won four NBA championships and won one BAA championship. He boasted 423-302 for his regular season record, a winning percentage of .570.

His playoff record was 60-35, with an even higher winning percentage of .63. Of coaches who could oversee at least 50 postseason games, Kundla is the fourth best.

Erik Spoelstra

No matter who is on the roster, whether undrafted or G-League players, you can count on Erik Spoelstra to create a winning team. You need this trademark to be named one of the best NBA coaches.

Early on as a coach, Erik Spoelstra won two championships. He had a roster with talent, including Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, and LeBron James.

Still, what could be his greatest moment as an NBA coach could be in 2020 when the Heat reached the finals. At the time, the Miami Heat were underdogs. Yet, they beat powerful teams like the Bucks and the Celtics.

For 14 seasons, Spoelstra has been coaching the Miami Heat, bringing in a regular season record 660-453. Their playoff record is 96-65. The best part for Erik Spoelstra is that he is still young, so he has so much more that he can accomplish!

The Best Basketball Coaches Ever

The NBA would never be the great league it is if it wasn’t for these incredible basketball coaches who have won games and won over their fans’ hearts.

To walk down memory lane, visit the Basketball Museum of Illinois. Here, you can check out coaches, officials, and players. Players must have played in the Illinois school system in high school basketball.

For more information about how to visit the Basketball Museum of Illinois, click here.

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