With the retirement of the great Tim Duncan, the question was posed to me: Can you find a better NBA coach/player combination than Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan?
The answer is: Yes! Of course! There have been many combos during the years that have led their teams to greatness. So I present the “Top 5 All Time NBA Coach/Player duos.” As always, I am sure you have your own list. So, let me know!
5.) Red Holzman/Walt Frazier
Sorry kids, but this is one of the best and it is personal. Walt Frazier “Clyde” is one of my favorite players of all time. He was one of the great clutch shooters in the game and maybe the most stylish NBA dresser of the 70s, maybe of all time. He averaged more than 20 points in each of the two seasons the New York Knicks won the NBA finals (1970 and 1973). Plus, the stark difference between the two personalities makes this one of the best, if not the most intriguing, duos ever. Bonus points for Clyde being from Atlanta and attending old Howard High School.
4.) Pat Riley/Magic Johnson
The glory years of the Los Angeles Lakers are not the Wilt-West years, not the Shaq-Kobe years, but the years when Magic Johnson and Pat Riley were together. They were winners of four NBA titles in the 80s including the first back-to-back titles (87-88) since the 1968-1969 Boston Celtics. Riley was once quoted as saying (according to basketballforcoaches.com): “The true warrior understands and seizes that moment by giving an effort so intense and so intuitive that it could only be called one from the heart” Magic Johnson exemplified that during his career.
3.) Red Auerbach/Bill Russell
The greatest NBA dynasty ever was engineered by Red Auerbach (the coach and general manager) and Bill Russell (the player). The duo combined for 11 NBA titles, including eight in a row from 1959 to 1966. When Auerbach died in 2006, Russell told nba.com: “He never made any pretensions about treating players the same. In fact, he treated everybody very differently. Basically, Red treats people as they perceive themselves. What he did best was to create a forum, but one where individuals wouldn’t be confined by the system. And he understood the chemistry of a team.”
2.) Gregg Popovich/Tim Duncan
When the great Tim Duncan recently announced his retirement, his longtime head coach Gregg Popovich said in a press conference: “I would not be standing here if it wasn’t for Tim Duncan. I’d be in the Budweiser League someplace in America, fat and still trying to play basketball or coach basketball.” The duo worked together for 19 seasons and came up with five NBA Titles. It is a closeness and success story that may not be duplicated in the NBA (or for any league in sports, for that matter) for a long, long time.
1.) Phil Jackson/Michael Jordan
This is kind of like what came first, the chicken or the egg? Would Phil Jackson have led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA Titles without Michael Jordan or would have Jordan won six NBA titles without Jackson? The results are undeniable. The “Zen Master” was able to get the talents of Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen to work together as a team. Jordan, on the other hand, is still the best player ever to play the game. It’s a combination that will never be duplicated.