Many sports fans seem to be think that only former pro basketball players can make good NBA coaches. This view is particularly prevalent among today’s pros who feel very strongly that some one who has never played the game at the highest level cannot teach them anything . The pros refer disparagingly to such coaches as ” simulators”.
It’s true that most of the NBA coaches today come from the ranks of the pros. Phil Jackson , Pat Riley , Doc Rivers , Jerry Sloan , Nate McMillan , Rick Adelman, Byron Scott and Doug Collins are only some of the former players who have made it to the coaching ranks . There are on the other hand some coaches who never played pro ball and have been highly successful in the NBA. Greg Popovich of the Spurs is a prime example ; the late Chuck Daley, Red Auerbach and Red Holzman were others . They won several NBA titles between them and commanded the respect of the players they coached . I could also point out Coach K from Duke who guided the U.S team to a gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and whom the NBA players loved to play for.
On the reverse side of the coin , there are many NBA players , some of them Hall of Famers, who were failures as coaches . Jerry West and Magic Johnson are two who never did well as NBA coaches in spite of their all-world credentials as players . Larry Bird met with some success in Indiana but he delegated most of the X’s and O’ to his assistant coaches . Bill Russell did have success as a player- coach but that was another era when the players did not have the giant egos that today’s players do.
In light of these examples it is safe to say that a career as an NBA player is not a pre-requisite for success as a NBA coach . In fact , one could make the case that the very best players make poor coaches because the game comes so naturally to them that they are unable to pass on their smarts to others. Perhaps the attitude of present day players is entirely a reflection of their monumental egos .
Which leads to the question ; What are the attributes of a good NBA coach ? This is what I feel :
1. He must be successful as a coach at the pro level . In order to command the respect of the players , particularly the “superstars”.He must have a good track record in the pros , preferably a NBA title or two. Only then will they listen to him , at least for a while .
2. He must have a strong personality . No nice guys finish last, or at least they don’t finish first. Many of today’s athletes are immature adults who need a strong hand and discipline is to be instilled.
3. He should be a good man manager , skilled at managing the egos of players , balancing the minutes and roles within the team . He has to know when to crack the whip , when to back off , and when to coddle players.
4. He must be a good bench coach ,able to make decisions on the fly , to read the flow of a game and to make adjustments as necessary when things are not going well. Sound knowledge of X’s and O’s is an asset but is not essential ; it can be delegated to the assistant coaches .
5. He must be a motivator , good in the sideline huddle , able to inspire his players to play at their peak.
Erik Spoelstra is a nice young man at the beginning of his career , one who doesn’t yet have a long record of success as a coach . He doesn;t seem to have a strong personality and is not a yeller or a screamer. Is it any wonder that he is having difficulties controlling the big egos on the Heat ?