The 6 NBA Coaches Who Have Won the Most Championships as a Player and Coach
Winning an NBA championship is one of the hardest things to do in professional sports. Players and coaches endure a grueling season that lasts a minimum of 98 games. The talented champions are rewarded with the distinction of being the best team in the league.
A lucky handful of people know what it’s like to win multiple NBA titles as both a player and a coach. The following six men have won the most championships as both a player and a coach:
Pat Riley: 7 championships
Pat Riley is one of the most respected basketball minds in NBA history, and we’re not even including the two titles he earned as a long-tenured executive with the Miami Heat.
During his playing days from 1967–76, the shooting guard won the 1972 NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. After a trade, Riley played one season for the Phoenix Suns before retiring. He accepted a position with the Lakers as an assistant coach for the 1979-80 season. The team won the 1980 NBA Finals.
With Riley holding the clipboard, the Showtime Lakers enjoyed excellent offensive play and featured several Hall of Fame players on the roster, like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, during this time. Riley led the Lakers to five more NBA titles (1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 2006), bringing his title as a player and a coach to seven.
Steve Kerr: 8 NBA championships
Steve Kerr was an important part of the Chicago Bulls dynasty in the ’90s. The point guard helped the team secure three NBA titles, 1996–98, in the Windy City. Alongside Michael Jordan and company, Kerr played an especially notable part in the 1997 championship against the Utah Jazz, as Basketball Reference reports. He made the title-winning basket in the last seconds of Game 6.
In 1999, Kerr was traded to San Antonio Spurs just as the team broke out. With the Spurs, he won the 1999 NBA Championship as well as the 2003 title. After time with the Portland Trail Blazers and a return to San Antonio, Kerr retired in 2003.
Now, Kerr coaches another NBA dynasty. Despite some obstacles, the Golden State Warriors have been a consistent force under his watch. Kerr’s Warriors have won the 2015, 2017, and 2018 NBA Championships, coming close to the finals in 2019. Now competing in a seventh NBA Finals, Golden State hopes to win out over the Boston Celtics for the 2022 title.
Tommy Heinsohn: 10 NBA championships
Power forward Tommy Heinsohn won his first NBA championship with the Celtics in 1957. Then, he helped Boston win seven straight titles from 1959–65 before retiring — eight championships total in his nine-year NBA career. Like his one-time teammate K.C. Jones, Heinsohn eventually made his way to Boston’s bench in 1969. He led the Celtics to championships in 1974 and 1976.
K.C. Jones: 12 championships
Jones was an important part of the Celtics’ dynasty of the ’60s, helping Boston win eight straight NBA titles from 1959–66. The point guard only retired after the 76ers finally broke the Celtics’ championship streak in 1967.
Jones’ first post-career NBA championship came in 1972 as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. Also as an assistant coach, he won the 1981 NBA title with his Boston Celtics. In 1983, Jones became head coach of the Celtics. He won two more titles with teams led by Larry Bird in 1984 and 1986. Jones retired in 1988. The former coach’s jersey was raised to Boston Garden’s rafters in 1989.
Bill Russell: 13 championships*
We placed an asterisk next to Bill Russell’s total because he won his last championships as a player/coach during the 1967–69 and 1968–69 seasons. Considering he filled in for both roles those last two seasons, as NBA.com reports, we give the Louisiana native his full due of 13 NBA titles. Even if we counted only the NBA championships the center earned as a player, Russell would make our list with 11.
As one of the most dominant players in NBA history, Russell was a force in the middle who could shut down even the greatest big men. He was part of the Celtics dynasty that won eight consecutive championships and was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.
Russell didn’t enjoy much success as a leader after his title wins in Boston (1968–69). He coached four seasons in Seattle in the ’70s with two playoff appearances, one playoff series win, and a losing record overall.
Phil Jackson: 13 NBA championships
When it comes to excellent coaching, Phil Jackson is arguably the best. As a player, he won championships with the New York Knicks in 1970 and 1973. But the power forward celebrated more success as a coach. Jackson built basketball dynasties in both Chicago and Los Angeles, winning 11 championships between the two teams.
Another astounding feat: The Montana native coached three separate three-peats (1991–93 and 1996–98 in Chicago, and 2000–02 with the Lakers). Jackson’s single year off during the 1998–09 season allowed San Antonio to win the title. But he personally won six straight titles as a coach with the three-peats in Chicago and LA.