When we talk about who’s got the most rings in the NBA, we’re usually talking about players. And it’s pretty clear you need great players to win a championship.
But it is important (perhaps more important) to have a great coach. In a lot of cases it’s the coach who pushes to get the right player, and works to develop them for the league. So who are the NBA coaches with the most rings?
Like any conversation about championships, there some appearances from Red Auerbach and the Celtics dynasty.
Without further delay, the NBA coaches with the most rings…
Phil Jackson ( 11 as a coach )
Phil is the very nearly uncontested GOAT here. You could point to the fact that he’s coached some of the greatest players and teams to have ever seen a basketball court. But he was the guy that those teams trusted.
When you talk about winning, there’s always a little bit of luck involved. But a lot of that luck has to be created. Pretty lucky to get to coach Jordan and Pippen. And then really lucky again to coach Kobe and Shaq. Also, incredibly lucky to know how to use them, keep them bought in on your process, and use them to churn out titles.
Red Auerbach ( 9 as a coach )
By his own admission, he was not a technical coach. His offensive playbook was limited to 7 plays. He was firey and demanding of his players. And somehow he pulled together an absolute basketball empire.
Yeah, nine titles as head coach. But 8 of those were in a row. He handed the keys to Bill Russell for a quick 2 more. The players he coached would And all told, he saw
Ole Red is the only contender to the Jackson throne. But to be honest, Red was still playing in a nascent league with a lot less money and attention getting tossed about. Consider the fact that Bill Russell took over while still playing 40+ minutes per game and still won 2 more titles for the Celtics.
Nevertheless, Auerbach is more that deserving of appreciation for what he brought to the NBA and the game of basketball. While Boston can and should be ashamed of their obvious race issues, Auerbach stands out as a symbol of just the opposite.
Pat Riley ( 5 as a coach )
If Riley’s numbers are unimpressive on the player side, his coaching stats make up for it. Riley pulled down 4 titles with the Lakers and one with the Heat.
And it deserves to be acknowledged that when he wasn’t winning championships in his 24 seasons as an NBA coach, there was a good chunk of time where he was in the Eastern Conference going against Phil Jackson and The Bulls.
John Kundla ( 5 as a coach | 1 with the NBL)
This guy should not be as forgotten as he is. John Kundla is the Pat Riley to Red Auerbach’s Phil Jackson.
Kundla and the George Mikan led Minnesota Lakers took down Auerbach’s Washington Capitals in 1949 to win the 3rd and final BAA championship. They had won the NBL championship the prior year, before merging with the BAA.
The next season, as the BAA was rebranded as the NBA, the Lakers took the first ever NBA title. In fact, Kundla’s Lakers would take 4 of the first 5 NBA titles, firmly positioning themselves as the first NBA dynasty. That one loss in 1951 probably had at least a little to do with George Mikan’s broken ankle.
Kundla would coach through 1959 when the Lakers shipped out to LA. Kundla, a Minnesota native, elected to stay back, picking up as coach for his alma mater, University of Minnesota.
In 9 seasons leading the Golden Gophers, the team never reached the post season. But Kundla seems to have enjoyed his time there. Even after retiring as a coach in 1968, he stayed on as an instructor until 1981.
Gregg Popovich ( 5 as a coach )
Popovich is often the first name that comes to mind these days when you talk about basketball coaching greats. The hard ass Navy man who’s headed the Spurs for a long, hard generation.
Of course, Pop always gets the same excuse as all of the other coaches. He had Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Yeah, and Riley had Kobe and Shaq. And Jackson had MJ and Pippen.
Pop has a system and it clearly works. I’m not a huge fan of the type of system that doesn’t know how to get Dennis Rodman running, personally, but who am I to knock it?
And with Wemby rolling in, Gregg Popovich is likely not interested in hanging up the whistle just yet. Even if he passes off coaching duties, he’s likely headed to the front office where he can relax a little as those rings continue to roll in.
He’s also won a gold medal, for what that’s worth.
Steve Kerr ( 5 as a player | 4 as a coach )
After a long and full career as a player, working nominal minutes, but setting some incredibly resilient 3-point records, Kerr spent way too much time as an executive with the Phoenix Suns, who will likely never go anywhere or amount to anything.
And then Kerr escaped to Northern California where he stretched the floor to the tune of 4 NBA titles. Books have and will continue to be written about how the Warriors irreversibly changed the game of basketball.
Kerr is one coaching title away from Pop, with whom he collected 2 of his player titles. And Pop’s got a lot of work to do if he wants to catch up with Kerr’s total.
Bill Russell ( 11 as a player | 2 as a coach )
Once again, the legend.
And this is where we trail off into a long list of 8 guys who have coached 2 title champion teams, and 21 who have coached 1.
It’s tough to win an NBA title, really tough. There are not that many people who have done it.
And league parity seems to be a building reality. The talent in the NBA these days is incredible. It’s getting to the point where every team can have at least 1 dominant player. And the league is taking measures to ensure that it is increasingly difficult for hyper-capitalized teams to gain or keep a monopoly on talent.
We’ll see how this plays out in coming years. It’s never easy to predict the second, third, tenth order effects of the decisions of major organizations. But things are looking a little brighter for some of the franchises that have struggled for the entirety of their existence.
Chuck Daly ( 2 as a coach )
Alex Hannum ( 2 as a coach )
Red Holzman ( 2 as a coach )
Rudy Tomjanovich ( 2 as a coach )
Eric Spoelstra ( 2 as a coach )
K.C. Jones ( 2 as a coach )
Tom Heinsohn( 2 as a coach )
There’s a lot that goes into winning an NBA title. You need a front office collecting the right tools, a roster that’s capable of domination, a coach that can strategize and motivate, and a lot more.
The coach is the key, honestly. When you look at the record, the deciding factor looks to be the head coach…
Take a look at the players with the most titles. You see that a dominant player won’t guarantee you a title, and a middling player can still rack them up. But great coaches win titles, and they don’t do so by accident.
So the list of coaches with the most titles reads pretty clearly as a list of the best coaches in NBA history. These guys each bring unique qualities and concepts to building and fielding a team in the NBA, and they’re legends, each and every one.