Skip to main content

Bill Russell makes an interesting case “Bias aside, Red Auerbach is superior to Phil Jackson”


When it comes to the GOAT of coaching, a handful of analysts and fans would immediately point to Phil Jackson. The Zen Master has 11 NBA title rings as a coach — the most in NBA history. As always, not everyone will agree that just because Jackson has the most title wins, he is immediately the greatest coach of all time. According to Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, trying his best to remove his bias, Red Auerbach was a better coach than Jackson. 

Familiarity breeds contempt

In his 2009 book “Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend,” Russell shared his side on the debate on who is the GOAT of coaching. During that time, Jackson and Auerbach were on top of the ladder with nine title rings apiece. There was this anticipation if Jackson could win one more to surpass the Celtics legend to become the all-time leader. In his memoir, he had an interesting argument as to why Auerbach is better than Jackson.

“Some people have asked me, ‘What’s the difference between Phil Jackson winning nine championships and Red Auerbach winning nine championships?’ Trying to put my bias aside—and there’s a great deal of it—I think Red’s achievement is superior because he got the same team to listen to him for ten straight years, and not just win a lot of games, but, at one stage, eight consecutive championships. What does a coach say to a player, ten years into their relationship, that he hasn’t heard a hundred times? There’s a cliché, ‘Familiarity breeds contempt.’ Well, with Red and us, it worked just the opposite. To me, that took more than just a great coach. It took a mastermind. It took, in fact, exactly what you also want in a true friend: someone big enough to consider his friend’s needs first and find the right ways to help enhance his existence.”

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

For some context, out of Russell’s 11 title rings, 9 of them were won with Auerbach on the sidelines. And as he noted, the Celtics won 8 straight titles from 1959 to 1966. With this in mind, it is not easy to believe that this is a purely objective take from Russell. 

But if we take it for what it is, it is indeed an interesting argument. Looking into Russell’s statement, he raises a critical nuance in coaching. While there is an inherent difficulty guiding a team with fresh faces every tenure, there are also many complexities in coaching a team that has not undergone a significant tweak for over a decade. Players and coaches can tire out from one another, just like how a rock band deems nothing productive is coming out from its members after several years together. And then there's always Pat Riley's famous "disease of more."

In the past, teams — even those who had just won a title — tended to mix their roster up. A good example would be the Golden State Warriors, who continuously added players, sensing the need to get better and better. They did not fear the possibility that new players could mix up the chemistry. They do not subscribe to the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They know that opposing teams will one day figure them out. And so, the goal is to keep everyone guessing. 

One more thing

Russell did not raise it in his argument, but some fans and analysts have also pointed out that Jackson had the privilege of working with two of the best duos in NBA history: Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen and Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O’Neal. Some even say that Jordan was the actual coach of the Chicago Bulls as he was the one who pushed his teammates to the limit. 

Whatever the case may be, we should take Russell’s logic as another way to understand the sport. These GOAT debates should not turn fellow fans into mortal enemies. Instead, these arguments should serve as entry points into a deeper discussion of the sport we all love. 

Tony Parker just wanted to make it to the NBA, and ended up becoming a legend in the process

Tony Parker shares what made it so hard to make it in the NBA as a European point guard back in the day

Tony Parker accomplished so much throughout his illustrious career, but his only goal initially was just to make it in the NBA

John Salley compares Luka Doncic to Larry Bird

John Salley says he would fear Luka Doncic the same way he feared Larry Bird

It might be too early to draw parallels between Larry Bird and Luka Doncic. But according to John Salley, both possess the same fear factor on the court.


Patrick Beverly disrespects the 2020 Lakers championship: "The Bubble Championship"

LeBron might think that was one of the hardest championships to win in NBA history, but Pat Bev is not having it!

Is it time for Chris Paul to retire?

Is it time for Chris Paul to retire?

This Playoff run exposed Chris Paul’s age more than ever. Gone are the days when he had all energy, pop, and even to an extent, durability to stay on the court.

Isiah Thomas criticism of Chris Paul still stands

Isiah Thomas’ past criticisms of Chris Paul still rings true: "He has to push past safe"

Isiah Thomas claimed Chris Paul was playing too safe to maintain his good stats. The Hall of Famer wanted CP3 to take some risks to win games.


Matt Barnes calls Patrick Beverly a clown for the Chris Paul slander: "You're not that guy"

Barnes went in on Pat Bev: "Chris Paul played terrible this series and his numbers are still better than your career numbers have ever been."

Patrick Beverley wouldn't mind joining LeBron James and the Lakers

Patrick Beverley on playing with the Los Angeles Lakers if he had the chance: “I wouldn’t even hesitate”

Patrick Beverley admitted that there's nothing like playing for the Lakers franchise

JJ Redick explains why Eric Gordon could've helped Phoenix Suns in the playoffs

JJ Redick explains why Eric Gordon could've helped Phoenix Suns in the playoffs

The Phoenix Suns fans wanted Eric Gordon but the front office panned their wishes.