When it comes to the debate over who the best coach in NBA history is, it usually comes down to two candidates: Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, and leader of the Bulls and Lakers of dynasties of the 90’s and 00’s: Phil Jackson, and both sides have legitimate claims for the top spot.
Phil leads the pack with 11 championships run with his own Triangle system, but doubters would say he did it in big markets on the backs of three of the top players in NBA history (all top 10 if you agree with ESPN) — Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal — plus he was known to conveniently retire when championships weren’t a distinct possibility anymore, only to re-emerge when title contention was back on the board. In other words, more often than not, if he didn’t have the players, he didn’t coach.
Pop got his five rings with a top 10 player of his own in Tim Duncan, but despite the gap in rings, an argument in his favor is he has done it all with one small market franchise, without the free agency appeal of Phil’s clubs, and more focus on internal player development and building stars from unknown commodities.
There’s no doubt that both coaches have achieved greatness no matter how much it can be debated who is the best, and a former player who won championships with both coaches has come forward with another layer to the debate: coaching style. Speaking to the Chicago Sun Times, Will Perdue gave his own comparison of what it was like to play for the two coaches:
“Phil saw us as a means to an end. Whether you liked his approach or not, sometimes that was his approach. It got you fired up, you played well that way. He did a nice job of identifying how to motivate each individual. Poke the bear, how do you poke the bear of each guy?
“Pop was more of a father figure. I mean he got on your ass, but he wasn’t afraid to have an honest conversation with you in the sense of more like a father figure. He made sure that he had personal relationships with every player in that locker room. He was constantly having meals with players. It was like, ‘You, you and you, we go to Houston, we’re going to dinner. Cancel any plans you have, we’re going to dinner, on me, and just one rule: We talk everything but basketball. No basketball.’
“I’m not saying Phil is an a—hole, but I don’t know if he had my best interest at heart. He had the team’s best interest at heart, no ifs ands or buts about that. Anytime you talked to Pop you could tell he had your interest and the team’s interest at heart. He made us all feel we were an important part of the equation.”
Again, it all seems to be left up to the interpreter, and for that matter the players themselves. Perdue personally seems to have preferred Pop’s “fatherly” approach over Phil’s “poke the bear” approach, but both can be seen as the coaches’ own ways of getting the best out of their players, and which one is preferred likely comes down to the players themselves.
What do you think of Perdue’s comparison, and what are some other aspects to look at when determining who the best coach is? Feel free to discuss in the comments below.