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10 Most Famous Basketball Coaches of All Time

10 Most Famous Basketball Coaches of All Time
Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Chuck Daly, and Don Nelson are just a few among the many basketball coaches who were associated with the evolution and success of basketball. Read about them, and other great basketball coaches, and their achievements in this SportsAspire post.
Shweta Ajwani
Last Updated: Jul 24, 2017
First Ever Basketball Coach!
James Naismith, a Canadian-born American, invented the sport of basketball in 1891, and was the first ever basketball coach.

A National Guard chaplain with the First Kansas Infantry Regiment, he taught basketball to his soldiers so that they could get a hold over their excess energy. This strategy not only boosted the morale of the soldiers, it also lowered the instances of indiscipline among them.
A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are. ― Ara Parasheghian
The ethics, strategies, and practice that go into basketball coaching are no different than those related to any other sport. An ideal coach is one who understands the strengths and weaknesses of individual players on a team, and uses each one of them, even the weaknesses, to the team's benefit―the ultimate goal of victory.

In this SportsAspire article, read about coaches who have gone down in the pages of basketball history as the most famous ones.
Phil Jackson
"I think the most important thing about coaching is that you have to have a sense of confidence about what you're doing."
Teams Coached

Chicago Bulls ◆ Los Angeles Lakers

✦ NBA Coach of the Year Award (1996)
✦ 11 x NBA Champion (1991-1993, 1996-1998, 2000-2002, 2009-2010)
✦ 6 x Eastern Conference Champion (1991-1993, 1996-1998)
✦ 7 x Western Conference Champion (2000-2002, 2004, 2008-2010)
✦ 4 x NBA All-Star Game Head Coach (1992, 1996, 2000, 2009)
One of the most successful coaches in the NBA, Phil Jackson (b. September 17, 1945) has the best win-loss record (1155 - 485) in the NBA. He coached the Bulls for 9 years, from 1989 to 1998, and led them to six NBA titles. He left the Bulls in 1998 to coach the LA Lakers, where he was the head coach from 1998 to 2010. The Los Angeles Lakers won 5 NBA titles under his guidance.

Considering his 2 NBA championships as a player, Jackson holds the record for the most NBA titles, at 13. His coaching was influenced by Eastern philosophy, and had a very holistic approach, earning him the moniker 'Zen Master'. Besides being known for his 11 titles, Jackson made famous the use of Tex Winter's triangle offense, which he used to great success in his career as a coach. Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, Philip Douglas 'Phil' Jackson is synonymous with success in basketball circles.

Jackson holds the record for most combined NBA championships as a head coach and a player. His NBA winning percentage (.704) is the highest of all NBA head coaches' winning percentages.
Red Auerbach
"If you're keeping score, win."
Teams Coached

Washington Capitols ◆ Tri-Cities Blackhawks ◆ Boston Celtics

✦ NBA Coach of the Year Award (1965)
✦ 11 x NBA All-Star Game head coach (1957 - 1967)
✦ 9 x NBA Champion (1957, 1959 - 1966)
✦ NBA Executive of the Year (1981)
Deemed as the most successful team official ever in the entire history of North American professional sports, Arnold Jacob 'Red' Auerbach (September 20, 1917 - October 28, 2006) is more famously remembered as the 'pioneer of modern basketball'. He is known to have redefined the game of basketball as a sport characterized by team play and defense. He was the one to introduce the 'fast break', an offensive strategy in basketball.

Auerbach successfully groomed many basketball players that were later inducted into the 'Basketball Hall of Fame'. Color barriers in the NBA were demolished by Auerbach when he drafted the first African-American NBA player, Chuck Cooper, into the sport.

Auerbach guided many teams, like the Washington Capitols, Tri-Cities Blackhawks, and Boston Celtics to basketball victory during his tenure as coach. His signature move of smoking a cigar before every game that he thought would be an assured win became 'the ultimate symbol of victory' for many. Another feather was added to his cap in the year 1967, when the 'NBA Coach of the Year Award' was re-named the 'Red Auerbach Trophy'.

The 'NBA Coach of the Year Award' was named as the 'Red Auerbach Trophy' in 1967.

His induction in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969 and accreditation as the greatest coach in NBA history by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America are some of his other laurels.
Chuck Daly
"If you're going to have to beg them to play, it's not going to work."
Teams Coached

Cleveland Cavaliers ◆ Detroit Pistons ◆ New Jersey Nets ◆ Orlando Magic

✦ Head Coach of the US Dream Team that won gold in the 1992 Olympics
Charles Jerome 'Chuck' Daly (July 20, 1930 - May 9, 2009), an American basketball coach, had a 14-year NBA coaching career. He was hired by the Detroit Pistons in 1983 as the head coach. The Pistons had never won back-to-back NBA championships ever before, which changed under the direction and guidance of Daly. Not only did they make it to the playoffs every year during Daly's tenure, they also reached the NBA finals thrice, and won two consecutive NBA championships (1989 and 1990).

Daly, who began his basketball career as coach in 1955, is best known for leading the Dream Team to the men's basketball gold medal in 1992 at the Summer Olympics. His 564-379 (.598) career record is recorded as the thirteenth-best among all the NBA coaches, and ninth-best by percentage.

He led the Detroit Pistons to two consecutive NBA championship victories.
Bill Fitch
"I'm independently wealthy. I have enough money to last me the rest of my life - provided I die tomorrow."
Teams Coached

Creighton ◆ Coe ◆ North Dakota ◆ Bowling Green ◆ Minnesota ◆ Cleveland Cavaliers ◆ Boston Celtics ◆ Houston Rockets ◆ New Jersey Nets ◆ Los Angeles Clippers

✦ 2 x NBA Coach of the Year Award (1976, 1980)
Known particularly for being a success story that made teams playoff contenders during the length of his coaching career, William Charles 'Bill' Fitch is a man with many feathers in his hat. He had a successful stint as a former National Basketball Association head coach, was a US Marine Corps drill instructor, and also a baseball coach.

During his career as an NBA coach, Fitch was known to be hired to save failing teams, and was successful at it too. The teams he coached always made it as playoff contenders. For this reason, he was repeatedly hired to fulfill attempts of improving failing teams.

Summing up his career as an NBA coach, Fitch was ranked fifth among all the coaches in all-time number victories (944), but he also ranked second in all time losses (1106), after Lenny Wilkens.

Boston Celtics lifted the 1981 NBA Championship under the guidance of Fitch. He made it to the list of NBA's Ten Greatest Coaches of All-Time in 1996.
Red Holzman
"On a good team there are no superstars. There are great players who show they are great players by being able to play with others as a team. They have the ability to be superstars, but if they fit into a good team, they make sacrifices, they do things necessary to help the team win. What the numbers are in salaries or statistics don't matter; how they play together does."
Teams Coached

Milwaukee / St. Louis Hawks ◆ New York Knicks ◆ Ponce Lions (Puerto Rico)

✦ NBA Coach of the Year Award (1970)
✦ 2 x NBA Champion (1970, 1973)
✦ 3 x Eastern Conference Champion (1970, 1972, 1973)
✦ 3 x BSN Champion (1964, 1965, 1966)
✦ 2 x NBA All-Star Game Coach (1970, 1971)
Red Holzman (August 10, 1920 - November 13, 1998) is best known as the head coach of New York Knicks (1967 - 1982). He guided the Knicks to a single-season NBA 18-game win streak, breaking a 17-game record that was set in 1946.

Holzman was one of the very few people who won NBA championships as a player as well as a coach. As basketball head coach, he had a 696-604 win-loss record.

During his tenure of 15 years as the head coach for New York Knicks, he accumulated 613 wins. The number 613 has been retired by the team in Holzman's honor, to equal their number of wins under his guidance.

Holzman's name was incorporated into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in the year 1985. The number 613 (Red Holzman's wins as head coach), has been retired by the New York Knicks in his honor.
John Kundla
"Blending the talents of your team members is crucial to basketball success."
Teams Coached

◆ Minneapolis Lakers

✦ 10 Greatest Coaches in the History of NBA
John Kundla, born as John Albert Kundla on July 3, 1916, is an American NBA head coach, who is famous for guiding the Lakers. He quit the position of head coach of Minneapolis Lakers to coach Minnesota Gophers for 9 years, until he retired as coach.

It is interesting to know that Kundla had originally turned down Minneapolis Lakers' offer to train them as their head coach, as he was not too impressed with their professional ranks. Later, a revision in the salary is all it took to bring him on board as head coach.

His career as head coach of basketball is adorned by a 423-302 win-loss record in the regular season, and a 60-35 win-loss record in the playoffs. Kundla's induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1955 was his career highlight.

John Kundla was elected in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in the year 1995, and continues to be the oldest living member of this club.
Don Nelson
"When you have bad teams, you've got to be creative to win games you're not supposed to win."
Teams Coached

Milwaukee Bucks ◆ Golden State Warriors ◆ New York Knicks ◆ Dallas Mavericks

✦ 3 x NBA Coach of the Year Award (1983, 1985, 1992)
Born as Donald Arvid 'Don' Nelson on May 15, 1940, and often known as an innovator, Don Nelson gave to the sport of basketball the concept of 'point forward', a strategy that is now employed by every team. One of his record-breaking stints was to overtake Lenny Wilkens for the spot of the highest number of all-time NBA wins (1335).

He coached the New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, and the Dallas Mavericks. With an all-time 1335-1063 win-loss record, Nelson was known for his unorthodox and innovative basketball philosophy.

He is credited with the invention of 'Hack-a-Shaq', a defense strategy used extensively in the NBA. Nelson was invited to coach Dream Team II to play at the 1994 FIBA World Championship in Toronto. He accepted the invitation and led the team to a gold-medal win.

In the year 2010, Don Nelson surpassed Lenny Wilkens' record and went on to become the head coach to win the most NBA championships, and mark a spot as the first all-time on NBA's winningest coaches list.
Jack Ramsay
"Teams that play together beat those with superior players who play more as individuals."
Teams Coached

Saint Joseph's Hawks ◆ Philadelphia 76ers ◆ Buffalo Braves ◆ Portland Trail Blazers ◆ Indiana Pacers

✦ NBA Coach of the Year Award (1996)
✦ Fastest coach to reach 900 career wins (1264 games).
More commonly known as 'Dr.Jack', since he holds a doctorate, John T. 'Jack' Ramsay is a former basketball coach. His professional career began as the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, who won the NBA title during his first season with them. He then graduated to serve a not very successful stint as the head coach of Buffalo Braves.

However, his next job as head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers proved beneficial for him as well as the team. The team had never made it to the playoffs or won the championships in their six year history, ever. Ramsay's guidance led them to their one and only NBA title.

His impressive 864-783 (.525%) win-loss record ushered him into the list of the top ten basketball coaches in NBA history. At the time of his retirement in 1988-89, Ramsay was the second NBA coach on the all-time wins list.

Jack Ramsay has been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in the year 1992 and is also named as one of the Top 10 Coaches in NBA History.
Pat Riley
"To have long term success as a coach or in any position of leadership, you have to be obsessed in some way."
Teams Coached

New York Knicks ◆ Los Angeles Lakers ◆ Miami Heat

✦ 3 x NBA Coach of the Year Award (1990, 1993, 1997)
✦ 5 x NBA Champion (1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, 2006)
✦ 9 x NBA All-Star Game Head Coach (1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1993)
Patrick James 'Pat' Riley, a former coach and basketball player, is now an American professional basketball executive. Currently leading Miami Heat as the team president, Pat Riley has enjoyed a very successful stint as an NBA head coach and is extremely well-regarded as one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time. He was named as one of the 10 Greatest Coaches in the history of NBA in 1996.

His most recent achievements were winning the 2012 and 2013 NBA championships with Miami Heat. Riley was awarded the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. His extremely successful stint as basketball coach includes being the head coach of an NBA All-Star Game team nine times (eight times with the Western Conference team and once with the Eastern Conference team).

Riley has maintained a wonderful 1210-694 (.636) win-loss record in the regular season and 171-111 (.606) in the playoffs.

Pat Riley is the first and only sports legend in North America to have won an NBA championship as a player, assistant coach, head coach, and executive.
Lenny Wilkens
"If you can't go through it, find a way around it. Don't spend all your time banging your head."
Teams Coached

Seattle SuperSonics ◆ Portland Trail Blazers ◆ Cleveland Cavaliers ◆ Atlanta Hawks ◆ Toronto Raptors ◆ New York Knicks

✦ NBA Coach of the Year Award (1994)
✦ Gold Medal Winner (1996 Olympic Games)
✦ NBA Champion (1979)
Leonard Randolph 'Lenny' Wilkens, a former basketball player and a retired American coach with the National Basketball Association (NBA), as well as a retired professional coach, was the all-time winningest coach in NBA history from the 1994-1995 season to the 2009-2010 season. Wilkens has also been named as one of the Top 10 Coaches in NBA History.

Wilkens retired from playing in 1975, and began his coaching career with the Trail Blazers, whom he trained for one season. He went on to guide the SuperSonics as head coach, who won 11 of the 12 games they played under his guidance. His stint as head coach with Seattle for eight seasons was highlighted by his and Seattle's only NBA championship in 1979.

The first coach to reach 1,000 career victories, Wilkens retired with an impressive 1332-1155 win loss record for the regular season.

Lenny Wilkens has been enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame three times - as a player in 1989, as a coach in 1998, and as a part of the United States Olympic 'Dream Team' in 1992.
An efficient basketball coach is one who can direct a team towards sweet victory and also teach them how not to be sore losers. He is the one to inculcate the qualities of sportsmanship, teamwork, effective communication, respect, and a positive attitude in the team members, and condition them not just from the sport's point of view.