Here is a notebook filler.
Current Memphis head coach and former Miami assistant coach David Fizdale was recently asked by ESPN if he thought LeBron James would make a good head coach in the league someday.
“No,” Fizdale said when asked about a potential future in coaching for James. “He would kill somebody. Perfection is like [his standard]. He wants perfection. I could see him actually owning his own team and doing something like that, but I think [as a coach], he would end up killing a player at some point because they wouldn’t live up to the expectations that he would set forth.”
Beyond the notebook fodder every beat writer needs to fill space, this is actually a fairly interesting point.
Try to think of a marquee great former player that went on to find success as an NBA coach.
Let’s compare notes! I hope you didn’t cheat.
Doc Rivers? He was an all-star once, but by no means great.
A few that come to mind; Isiah Thomas was probably the worst coach in Knicks history (saying something), Magic Johnson coached one fragmented season and quit because he couldn’t connect with younger generation (or something), Kevin McHale kamikazed the Timberwolves, then brought the Rockets a few years ago to the Western Finals.
Bill Russell was a really bad coach (stick with me), in the most Russell way possible. A funny anecdote from TNT’s Kenny Smith comes to mind. He was a rookie in Sacramento under Russell, where Russell would refuse to let Smith sit with the other players, because they were already losers; it was too late for them. He would also read the paper during practices and routinely doze off.
Goodness, what I wouldn’t do for 10 minutes of Russell’s time.
Clearly, he was burned out at that point. But, if you want to get technical, he was the player-coach for the final two titles he won with Boston. He was the first African-American head coach in American pro sports; the first to win a title. So depending on whether you count those two years or not, there is your answer — the great Bill Russell.
Here are some successful ones that I just thought of:
Larry Bird, who led the Pacers to there only Finals appearance, lost to the Lakers, and promptly stepped down, making way for Thomas, who floated his way through three mediocre seasons before becoming a sex offender in New York.
Tommy Heinsohn, the Celtic legend who benefited perhaps more than anyone from the Dick & Don Era (almost an all-white league), who won eight titles as a player and was inducted into the Hall Of Fame. He then coached Boston for most of the ’70s and won two more titles. Then he retired and became the Celtics color analyst, a title he holds 37 years later. Not a bad life.
Here is a list of the winningest coaches ever by titles, and who they were before they took their respective coaching jobs.
11 – Phil Jackson – A killer role-player on those New York Knick title teams in the early ‘7os that basketball purists won’t shut up about.
9- Red Auerbach – Revolutionary coach, never played.
5 – John Kundla – Kundla won a bunch with the prehistoric Minneapolis Lakers. The NBA wasn’t a thing when he would have ready to play in it.
5 – Pat Riley – Riley won four with the Lakers and one with the Heat, but had a so-so playing career in the ’60s and ’70s. He scored 7.3 a game on the West-Wilt Lakers that won 27 in a row and the ’73 title.
5 – Gregg Popovich – Lovely person, of course, but played at Air Force and never made the NBA.
2 – Chuck Daly (never played), Alex Hannum (a role-player in the Dick & Don Era), Tommy Heinsohn (covered), Red Holzman (played in the defunct NBL in the ’40s), K.C. Jones (the curator of the ’80s Celtics, a role-player for lots of Russell title teams in the ’60s), Bill Russell (covered), Rudy Tomjanovich (coached the Rockets in the ’90s, and, in his defense, was a five-time all-star with the Rockets in the ’70s, but was most infamously almost killed on the court when Kermit Washington hit him with the meanest right hook ever), and lastly, Erik Spoelstra (ehhhhhh).
Those are all the coaches with multiple titles. Perhaps the best with one title is Lenny Wilkens, who coached the Supersonics to their only championship, and before that was a Hall Of Fame point guard as a player. So he’s the one I missed.
But the larger point here is this; a coaching job in the NBA largely has no place for the modern NBA superstar. Imagine Allen Iverson as a coach? It would be a complete disaster.
How about Kevin Garnett? The team would call a mutiny on day two of training. Michael Jordan is smart, probably for all the reasons Fizdale said about LeBron.
Of the 30 current coaches, 13 played in the NBA. Only two made an all-star team, and only Jason Kidd will be in the Hall Of Fame for his on the court exploits.
All were role-players at some point, and most were point guards. It is a sure advantage to see the court as a player from a different perspective. Steve Kerr, who played behind a collection of incredible talent, was destined for a successful second life as a coach.
LeBron James will go off and make billions of dollars.
But please, LeBron, spare the future role-players your wrath.
Image via Cleveland.com