Everyone wants the rings. You can’t argue with the rings. Stats can be padded but nobody can deny an NBA championship title. And so there is no more potent symbol of NBA greatness than the championship title ring. So, then, who has the most NBA championship wins in history?
Seems like a simple question, right? But we really need to break this up into parts. There are a lot of different hands in the pot when it comes to grinding out titles. Players, coaches, executives, they all deserve a little bit of credit.
In fact, the real greats are able to generate championship wins across an organization. These guys understand how the game works and how best to rend glorious victory from its clenched teeth, whether on the floor or behind the scenes.
But the more you dig into the topic, the more you see that the very question of who has won the most NBA championships only serves to generate more questions. Who actually owns the most title rings? Who’s coached the most title runs? Who’s appeared on the most championship rosters? Who is truly the best of the best?
Here’s where we sort all that out…
Who has the most total NBA championship rings?
We’ll start with the OG total championship GOAT. There’s one dude who has won the most NBA championship rings across all roles.
It’s generally up to the franchise owner who gets an NBA championship ring. That can make things a little confusing. It introduces some uncertainty about who gets a ring and which rings should be counted.
Still, if we’re just talking about who has the most total NBA championship rings, the answer is pretty clear.
Red Auerbach has the most total NBA championship rings, winning 9 NBA titles as a coach and 7 as an executive during his 56 years with the Boston Celtics. Auerbach is the only coach to have won 8 consecutive NBA titles, and is easily one of the most dominant basketball coaches in NBA history.
Red was never really known for his tactical prowess as much as for his leadership ability. He was almost universally respected by his players. And that’s a clear theme among winning NBA coaches, a gift for assembling and motivating talent.
Who has the most total NBA championship wins as an executive?
That would be Red Auerbach, once again. After passing off coaching duties to Bill Russell after the 1966 season, Auerbach would serve as GM for almost 20 years, winning 6 more championships.
In 1984, Auerbach gave up the GM helm to Jan Volk and cycled between the president and vice-chairman position until his death in 2006. The Celtics picked up one more title under Red’s watch in 1986. They may well have picked up a few more if not for the Len Bias situation.
It’s kinda wild. Red Auerbach obviously just knew better than anyone how to work the system and churn out titles. But he was also persistent. A lot of people reach the peak of their profession and they do something reasonable, like retire. Red kept goin. He was president of the Celtics at the time of his death in 2006. And it’s not like he needed the money or anything.
Yeah, it’s a dramatization, but Auerbach’s depiction in the HBO Lakers miniseries left an impression on me, personally. I don’t wanna spoil anything, but I buy it, that the man lived to win basketball games.
Who has the most total NBA championship wins as a player?
Bill Russell is the all-time leader in NBA title wins as a player. With the Auerbach Celtics in the 60’s, Russell won 9 NBA titles as a player and 2 as a player-coach.
The player-coach thing is pretty wild. For those last 2 career titles in 68-69, Bill Russell was coaching the team while still averaging around 40 minutes of playing time per game. This doesn’t happen anymore, and for good reason, but it’s amazing that it did work at one time.
Russell’s closest competition in the player titles record is his teammate Sam Jones who missed the 1957 title year but was with him as a player for the remaining 10 of those championship seasons.
Which team has won the most NBA championships?
The Celtics and the Lakers are tied at 17 total NBA titles each.
But if you have to pick a winner here, it’s the Boston Celtics for two big reasons.
First of all, the Lakers won their first title when the NBA was still the BAA. BAA titles are generally counted as NBA titles. The BAA rebranded as the NBA when the NBL merged into it. Still, on a technicality, the Lakers only really have 16 titles under the NBA branding.
The other issue is that the Lakers won all of their early titles in Minneapolis. So again, on a technicality, the Los Angeles Lakers have only won 12 titles.
I’m sure Lakers fans can come up with some reasons that the Lakers count is actually more valid than the Boston count. The Lakers have definitely been the better team in recent decade. I’m not particularly a fan of either team, I just report the news.
Who has the most NBA championships as a Coach?
Phil Jackson is far and away the leader in the NBA coaching titles race with 11 career coaching titles. Red Auerbach trails by 2 with 9 coaching titles. The only active coach in contention for the spot is Popovich with 5 coaching titles.
If you wanna see a more complete list, I covered the 15 NBA coaches with 2 or more titles in another recent article.
But I digress…
Phil is the mostly undisputed NBA championship GOAT coach. He holds a total of 13 NBA title rings, 2 as a player with the Knicks (although one is from a season where back surgery kept him off the floor for the entire season) and 11 as a coach.
Jackson coached 2 of the greatest NBA dynasties in history, the Jordan Bulls and the Shaq-Kobe Lakers. He took Tex Winter’s triangle offense and refined it to sheer brilliance to completely dominate professional basketball in the 90’s. If Jordan hadn’t taken his first retirement in the middle of it all, he may well have blown Auerbach’s Celtics dynasty out of the water.
Who has won NBA championships with the most teams?
This is one of my favorite little statistical facts. It’s just fascinating to me what type of player it takes to win titles with multiple teams. You need a lot of luck, but you also need to be the kind of player who can deliver the right skills for the right price.
There are currently 4 players in NBA history who have won titles with three different teams. Three of them are basically just fantastic role players. One of them is LeBron. It begs the question, is LeBron just the greatest role player of all time?
Robert Horry has won 7 NBA championships and that is awesome enough. But there’s something else…
Everyone who has won 7 or more NBA championships, except for Horry, won all of their championships with the Auerbach Celtics, the most dominant NBA dynasty of all time.
It’s only Horry, in a class of his own, who managed to take down 7 titles on three different teams, none of them anywhere near Boston: The Los Angeles Lakers, the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs.
Is it just luck, a happy accident, or is Robert Horry the greatest NBA special sauce the world has ever known?
John Salley was the first player to accomplish the feat, winning his fourth title with the Lakers in 2000 after having already collected titles with the Bulls and the Pistons. Interestingly, Robert Horry was a teammate on that 2000 Lakers squad.
Salley is the model of a solid role player. He was a reliable defender, a crucial part of the Bad Boy Pistons. He wasn’t much of a threat from the arc, but that was in the days before it really mattered. And he hovered around 50% from the field for the bulk of his career.
Yeah, LeBron has won 4 titles with 3 different teams. He’s also the most recent addition to this list.
LeBron famously ditched the Cavaliers to go and snag his first couple of rings with the superteam Heat in 2012 and 2013. He then hopped back to his hometown Cavs to bring Cleveland their first major sports title in many many years.
LeBron then jumped over to the Lakers to claim his fourth title in 2020. It’s a right of passage after all. All of the greats win a Lakers title. I guess Jordan didn’t, but Phil Jackson won a bunch of em, so that counts, right?
Green was the 46th pick in the 2009 NBA draft, making him the lowest pick on the list. He bounced around for a bit, before finding a steady role with the Spurs. Green spent the bulk of his early career in San Antonio, winning his first title in 2014.
Green may just be the quintessential 3-and-D guy. He’s maintained a decent 3P% throughout his career, with a particularly high efficiency from the corners. If you’ve watched Green play over any meaningful period of time, this becomes evident. He is the man in the corner.
Digging into the characters with the most NBA championship wins tells a big chunk of the story about the history of the NBA history. When combined with understanding the greatest dynasties in NBA history, you end up with a rough outline of the league to date.
Obviously you’re gonna miss some major subplots. The Stockton Malone Jazz don’t make the cut. Barkley’s Suns never made it to the top. But the structure is there and you can fill in the details for the generations that resonate most with you.