The 1996-97 NBA finished with the Chicago Bulls defeating the Utah Jazz in four games to win their 5th championship. That season featured one of the most talented rookie-classes ever, including Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Ben Wallace, and Stephon Marbury.
It was also the celebration season. To mark its 50th season, the NBA made a list of the 50 most important players in NBA history. On this day in 1996, the league revealed a list of top ten coaches in NBA history. Without ranking them, voters chose the best masterminds of the game. Some of the people that picked the best coaches were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, John Havlicek, Oscar Robertson, and Bill Russell.
Red Auerbach was one of those who made it on the list. Celtics’ legend served 20 years as an NBA head coach; he won nine championships and had 19 playoff appearances. He registered 938 wins and 479 losses. Auerbach was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1968.
Not so successful, but still great was Chuck Daly, head coach of Cavaliers, Pistons, Nets, and Magic. Daly recorded 638 wins and 437 defeats, he had 12 playoff appearances and won two rings with the Pistons.
Bill Fitch was also included on the list. Fitch led the Celtics to overall victory in 1981 and had a total of 13 playoff appearances. He also coached Cavaliers, Rockets, Nets, and Clippers.
Two Knicks’ championships are tied to Red Holzman’s name. He served as a head coach for 18 years and took his teams to the playoffs ten times. Besides New York, Holzman was a coach in Atlanta.
The next one in the Top ten coaches was Phil Jackson. Jackson clocked 1,155 career victories and only 485 losses. For nine years, he worked as a Chicago Bulls head coach and 11 as a coach of the LA Lakers. Zen-master won 11 titles and reached 400 career wins in only 557 games. He made it to the playoffs 20 times.
Fans of Minneapolis Lakers surely know about John Kundla. He’s the guy who’s titles LA fans celebrate despite the fact they were won in Minneapolis – five of them. Kundla was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.
Legend Don Nelson (Bucks, Warriors, Knicks, and Mavericks) never won a championship ring all though he entered the playoffs 18 times. His clubs have recorded nine 50-plus-win seasons and seven divisional championships. Nelson was a head coach for 31 seasons.
Jack Ramsey did win; in 1976-77, he led the Portland Trail Blazers to victory. Except for the Trail Blazers, Ramsey coached 76ers, Braves, and Pacers in 20 years he served as a coach.
Only one guy comes to mind when you say slicked hair and Italian suits. Pat Riley won five championships, four with the Lakers and one with the Heat. His career record stands at 1,210 wins and 694 defeats. Riley appeared in the playoffs 21 times.
Last on the list is Lenny Wilkens – a coach that brought a championship title to Seattle SuperSonics in 1978/79. Wilkens also coached Trail Blazers, Cavaliers, Raptors, and Knicks in 20 seasons.
And that were the ten best coaches picked in 1996. If we look at it from today’s perspective, we could find a name or two for this list. Gregg Popovich, for example, would surely be in it.