This season’s labor strife almost cost the prestigious NBA Coach of the Year award its fiftieth birthday.
First awarded in 1963 to Harry Gallatin of the St. Louis Hawks, and like the MVP and many other individual awards, Coach of the Year is recognition for regular-season accomplishment. How exactly this accomplishment is to be judged has been left to the discretion of the voters.
Consequently, only five of the 49 selections to date have been able to add a title ring in the same year—Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs in 2002-03, Phil Jackson for his 72-win Chicago Bulls in 1995-96, Bill Sharman in recognition of his Los Angeles Lakers’ 33-game winning streak in 1971-72, Red Holzman for the 1969-70 New York Knicks, and Mr. Red Auerbach himself for his 1964-65, “Havlicek Stole the Ball” Boston Celtics.
Excluding the most recent negotiation-shortened season of 1999, 15 NBA seasons have yielded a Coach of the Year from a team with fewer than 50 wins. Hubie Brown of the 1977-78 Atlanta Hawks and Doc Rivers with his 1999-2000 Orlando Magic both walked off with the Red Auerbach Trophy on the heels of an even .500 season.
And then there’s the puzzling case of John “Red” Kerr, which we’ll get to shortly.
Now let’s see who’s making a play for this season’s honor.