Players get all the hype. Coaches usually get all the blame. But some rise above it to reach the pinnacles of success as the masterminds behind the championship rings.
So let’s take a moment to reflect on the three coaches who’ll be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend — all deservingly so.
First, we began with, to some, the best center in basketball history.
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As you’d imagine, Bill Russell’s already enshrined in multiple hoops Halls of Fame (FIBA, College Basketball), and will now be inducted twice in the Naismith Hall alone (player and coach). The NBA Finals MVP trophy is named after him, and he was even awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 by Barack Obama. But his coaching resume gets obviously overlooked for various reasons. Many people who regularly discuss the NBA now weren’t around then, and hell, a good chunk had parents who were babies at the time, too.
Russell’s one of the last player-coaches in NBA history, having served the dual-role in his final three playing seasons with the Boston Celtics from 1966-1969. The Celtics went 162-83 during that stretch, winning two NBA Championships prior to Russell’s retirement (from both roles) following the 1968-1969 season. He also coached the Seattle Supersonics (R.I.P.) from 1974-1977 — leading to a 162-166 record, but making a Western Conference Semifinals in 1975 — and even had a brief stint coaching the Sacramento Kings in 1987-88, going 17-41 (look away).
But back before all that, in 1966, when Red Auerbach stepped down and into the front office, by naming Russell, he was naming the league’s first Black head coach in their then 19-year history.
His coaching tenure finished with a 341-290 record, including a 34-27 in the playoffs and two titles.
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Now entering his 28th year as a head coach, Jay Wright has established himself as one of the faces of college basketball’s sideline-dwellers, and has helped provide Villanova staying power as an elite program in the process. Hofstra University hadn’t made it into the NCAA Tournament since 1977 when Wright took over in 1994. Although they struggled during his first three seasons, they went 19-12 in 1997-98, making the NIT the next year, followed by two NCAA Tournament appearances in the 2000’s. Hofstra was led, along with Wright, by future NBA players Speedy Claxton and Norm Richardson, and joined the Colonial Athletic Association from the America East after their 2001 tournament appearances.
Wright’s now-20 years at Villanova began with three consecutive NIT bids, later making an Elite Eight in 2006 and the Final Four in 2009. Since the 2013-14 season, they’ve won the Big East regular season and/or tournament titles every year, highlighted by two NCAA Tournament championships in 2016 and 2018. Wright has a career head-coaching record of 612-274, giving him a winning percentage of .691, and he’s also 30-14 in the NCAA Tournament. At ‘Nova, he’s coached many NBA pros — a list led by Kyle Lowry, Dante Cunningham, Mikal Bridges, Josh Hart, Dante DiVicenzo, Eric Paschall, and Jalen Brunson, among others.
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Rick Adelman has the most extensive NBA coaching resume of anyone being enshrined over the weekend, but before that, he was a point guard in the league for seven seasons. From 1968-1975, he posted 7.7 points and 3.5 assists per game.
His NBA coaching career began in 1983 as a Portland Trail Blazers assistant, where he was promoted to head coach prior to the 1988-1989 season. In Portland, led by Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter, Adelman helped bring the club to two NBA Finals appearances in 1990 and 1992 before being dismissed following the 1993-94 season. As head coach in Portland, Adelman compiled a 291-154 regular season record, went 36-33 in the playoffs, and tasted postseason basketball all six years. He later coached the Golden State Warriors from 1995-1997, but this was really just the transitional period from Run TMC to the Latrell Sprewell-choking-PJ Carlesimo era.
Adelman also spearheaded one of the most notable basketball team eras in recent memory, the late 1990s/early 2000s Sacramento Kings, whose leader, Chris Webber, will be inducted into the Hall as a player this weekend.
From 1998-2006, the Kings went 395-229 in the regular season, reached the 2002 Western Conference Finals, which they were cheated out of winning (they were No. 1 on this very competitive list), and made it to the playoffs out west in all eight seasons. Adelman also coached the Houston Rockets from 2007-2011, then the Minnesota Timberwolves from 2011-2014, both resulting in limited success. Adelman retired from coaching with a 1,042-749 regular season record, giving him the ninth-most wins in NBA history. He also went 79-78 in the playoffs, and is one of the league’s most successful coaches to never win a title.