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Top Coaches in NBA History

The National Basketball Association's All-Time Coaching Wins List


Just last season, five of the top seven names on the NBA's all-time coaching wins list were active. But Don Nelson wasn't retained by the Warriors' new ownership group, and Larry Brown parted ways with the Charlotte Bobcats just before Christmas, 2010. That leaves Utah's Jerry Sloan as the active leader, followed by the Lakers' Phil Jackson and Denver's George Karl.

1. Don Nelson - 1335

Don Nelson and Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Getty Images / Hannah Foslien

An NBA lifer, Nelson piled up over 1300 wins as coach of the Bucks, Warriors, Mavericks and Knicks. His teams were known for their high-powered and often unconventional offenses, often relying on a "point forward" to initiate plays. Nellie was named NBA Coach of the Year three times: in 1983, 1985 and 1992.

2. Lenny Wilkens - 1332

One of a select few to reach the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and coach, Wilkens racked up his 1332 wins as head coach in Seattle, Portland, Cleveland, Atlanta, Toronto and New York. He led the Sonics to an NBA Title in 1979 and was honored as NBA Coach of the YEar in 1994.

3. Pat Riley - 1210

Riley has been at the heart of some of the most legendary teams of the last four decades -- Magic Johnson's "Showtime" Lakers, the "No Layup Rule" Patrick Ewing/Charles Oakley Knicks and Miami's Shaquille O'Neal/Dwyane Wade championship squad. He has five NBA titles on his resume - four with the Lakers and a fifth with the Heat - and could be positioned to add to that total as Miami's team president and architect of the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh roster. Riley was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach in 2008.

4. Jerry Sloan - ACTIVE

Karl Malone joins 2009 Hall of Fame inductees Jerry Sloan and John Stockton on the red carpet
© Tara Fappiano

The longest-tenured coach in the NBA, Sloan has been running the Utah Jazz since the 1988-89 season. He's also a very compelling argument against the validity of the NBA Coach of the Year award -- how can that award truly honor coaching greatness if Sloan has never won? Though Sloan has never won an NBA title, he has reached the NBA Finals twice -- in 1997 and 1998 -- and was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. Sloan also coached the Chicago Bulls -- the team where he spent most of his stellar playing career -- for three seasons in the early 80s.

5. Phil Jackson - ACTIVE

Phil Jackson and Jeanie Buss
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The man who called the shots for Michael Jordan's Bulls and Kobe Bryant's Lakers has over 1,100 (and counting) wins on his resume, to go with his eleven NBA championships. Remarkably, the Zen Master has won NBA Coach of the Year Honors just once -- in 1996. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

6. Larry Brown - 1098

Larry Brown
Getty Images / Streeter Lecka

One of coaching's most notorious vagabonds, Brown's win total would be significantly higher if we included his stints in the ABA and NCAA. A tough leader who stressed defense and unselfish play, Brown called plays for the ABA's Carolina Cougars and Denver Nuggets and the NBA's Nuggets, Nets, Spurs, Clippers, Pacers, Sixers, Pistons, Knicks and Bobcats. And don't forget the UCLA Bruins and Kansas Jayhawks, the team he led to an NCAA Title in 1988.

He won an Eastern Conference championship with Allen Iverson and the Sixers in 2001 and was named NBA Coach of the Year, then led the Chauncey Billups/Rip Hamilton/Ben Wallace Pistons to an NBA Title in 2004.

He remains the only coach to win a title in both the NBA and NCAA.

7. George Karl - ACTIVE

On December 10, 2010, George Karl became just the seventh coach in NBA history with 1,000 wins -- amassing that total with the Cavaliers, Warriors, Sonics, Bucks and his current team, the Denver Nuggets.

8. Bill Fitch - 944

A two-time NBA Coach of the Year, Fitch won an NBA title in 1981 with Larry Bird's Celtics in 1981 and brought the Houston Rockets to the Finals in 1986. He also spent time running the Cavaliers, Nets and Clippers. He retired as the NBA's all-time leader in coaching wins... and losses. (He was passed - in both categories - by Lenny Wilkens.)

9. Red Auerbach - 938

A name synonymous with the Boston Celtics dynasties of the 50s and 60s, Arnold Jacob "Red" Auerbach led the C's to nine NBA championships as a coach. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969.

He also served one year as head coach of the Tri-Cities Blackhawks -- the team now known as the Atlanta Hawks.

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