Considering all of the great players who have suited up for the Los Angeles Lakers throughout the years, a person could make an argument for several of them as being the greatest Laker of all-time.
But when it comes to deciding the franchise’s all-time best coach, there are only two options: Pat Riley or Phil Jackson.
As coach of the Lakers, Jackson and Riley combined to win nine championships, 1,143 regular season games, 220 playoff games and 54 playoff series.
This article will compare the two men’s careers as coach of the Lakers. Not only will the coaches’ championships and overall statistics be compared, but I have written two slides for each coach arguing why they can legitimately be considered the franchise’s all-time best coach.
But before we get down to the nitty gritty, let’s take a look at each coach’s respective journey to Los Angeles.
Photo Courtesy of: sikids.com
After playing four years of basketball at the University of Kentucky, under legendary coach Adolph Rupp, Pat Riley was drafted by the San Diego Rockets in the first round of the 1967 draft.
After playing three seasons with the Rockets, Riley spent the next six seasons of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning a championship in 1972.
Riley had a stint as the team’s assistant coach, before becoming head coach early in the 1981-82 season.
Riley would coach the Lakers until 1990, winning a total of four championships.
Jackson was part of the Knicks’ championship team in 1973.
Before becoming the assistant coach of the Chicago Bulls, Jackson had coaching stints in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and in Puerto Rico. In 1984, Jackson led the Albany Patroons to the CBA championship.
Jackson became the head coach of the Bulls in 1989. The rest, as they say, is ancient history.
Jackson would win six titles with Bulls, leaving the team after the 1998 season.
Jackson was hired by the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer 1999. Jackson won five titles in his 11 seasons with the team.
Pat Riley was named the 1989-1990 Coach of the Year, leading the Lakers to 63 wins.
But the season ended on a sour note, when the Lakers were beat by the Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals.
Phil Jackson never won the award while coaching the Los Angeles Lakers. Although, it was highway robbery he didn’t win the award for the 1999-2000 season.
Here are the Lakers Phil Jackson coached who are or will be in the Hall of Fame one day:
Shaquille O’Neal – future member
Kobe Bryant – future member
Robert Horry- possible future member
Pau Gasol- possible future member
Here are the Lakers players Pat Riley coached who are currently in the Hall of Fame:
In his 11 seasons as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Phil Jackson compiled a record of 610 victories and 292 losses (67.6 win percentage).
Jackson’s best regular came in 1999-2000. The Lakers finished with a 67-15 record, the franchise’s second best regular season record of all-time.
In nine of his 11 seasons, Jackson’s teams finished with at least 50 victories.
In February of 2010, Jackson passed Pat Riley for most coaching victories in Lakers history.
In his nine seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, Pat Riley amassed a record of 533-194 (73.3 win percentage).
Riley’s best regular season record came in 1986-87, as the team won 65 games, en route to beating the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
Riley’s teams never finished with less than 50 victories and finished with at least 60 wins five different times.
Get up, stretch a little bit and enjoy this Pat Riley highlight video.
Channel your inner Zen Master while watching this superb Phil Jackson highlight video.
Pat Riley compiled a record of 102- 47 in playoff games, winning 26 playoff series in the process.
Phil Jackson compiled a record of 118-63 in playoff games, winning 28 playoff series in the process.
Pat Riley won four championships (1982, 1985, 1987-88) and seven conference titles as the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Riley’s most impressive championship with the Lakers was the 1987 version. The team seized control in their rivalry with the Boston Celtics, beating them for the second time in three years in the NBA Finals.
Conference Semfinals: Phoenix Suns 4-0
Conference Finals: San Antonio 4-0
NBA Finals: Philadelphia 4-2
First Round: Phoenix 3-0
Conference Semifinals: Portland 4-1
Conference Finals: Denver 4-1
NBA Finals: Boston 4-2
First Round: Denver 3-0
Conference Semifinals: Golden State 4-1
Conference Finals: Seattle 4-0
NBA Finals: Boston 4-2
First Round: San Antonio 3-0
Conference Semifinals: Utah 4-3
Conference Finals: Dallas 4-3
NBA Finals: Detroit 4-3
Phil Jackson won five NBA championships (2000-2002, 2009 and 2010) and seven conference titles as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Jackson’s most impressive championship with the Lakers came in 2001.
The team only lost one game the entire playoffs, beating the Philadelphia 76ers for their second consecutive championship.
The team’s 15-1 mark is the best playoff winning percentage in league history. A mark that may never be broken.
First Round: Sacramento 3-2
Conference Semifinals: Phoenix 4-1
Conference Finals: Portland 4-3
NBA Finals: Indiana 4-2
First Round: Portland 3-0
Conference Semifinals: Sacramento 4-0
Conference Finals: San Antonio 4-0
NBA Finals: Philadelphia 4-1
First Round: Portland 3-0
Conference Semifinals: San Antonio 4-1
Conference Finals: Sacramento 4-3
NBA Finals: New Jersey 4-0
First Round: Utah 4-1
Conference Semifinals: Houston 4-3
Conference Finals: Denver 4-2
NBA Finals: Orlando 4-1
First Round: Oklahoma City 4-2
Conference Semifinals: Utah 4-0
Conference Finals: Phoenix 4-2
NBA Finals: Boston 4-3
When Pat Riley became the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, replacing Paul Westhead 11 games into the 1981-82 season, no one knew what to expect from the Kentucky alum. Was he good? Bad? Did he even want to be coach?
The only thing Lakers fans knew about Riley was he was a role player for the team during the 1970s, he had helped Chick Hearn broadcast games for a short period of time.
As a rookie head coach, Riley had a lot of pressure on his shoulders coaching superstars like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, especially when you consider the duo had already won a championship together.
Which makes the fact he led the team to the championship in his first season even more impressive.
Conversely, when Phil Jackson came to Los Angeles, he was already established as one of the game’s best coaches, having won six championships with the Chicago Bulls.
There was much more mystery with Riley, which makes his instant success all the more impressive.
He taught Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal how to win.
Before Phil Jackson arrived, Kobe, Shaq and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t get over the proverbial hump. Sure, they had dominating regular seasons, but come playoff time, they were often embarrassingly exposed by their Western Conference foes.
Then Jackson arrives, and the team wins a championship in his first season as coach, en route to winning three in a row.
This may sound a little dramatic, but I don’t think Kobe and Shaq ever would have won a championship together if Jackson had not been hired.
Yes, Kobe and Shaq still feuded with Jackson as their coach, but they took care of business on the court. Imagine how ugly it would have been with a less-decorated coach in town.
Pat Riley won four championships against some of the toughest competition in league history.
Riley’s four championships came against Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers, Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics and the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons.
Very impressive, especially when you consider, (with the exception of the 2010 Boston Celtics), how bad the competition was for Phil Jackson’s teams in the NBA Finals.
The Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets and the Orlando Magic in 2009 are nothing to write home about.
In Jackson’s defense, the Lakers did beat powerhouses in the Western Conference playoffs during Jackson’s first three championships with the team.
The 2000 Blazers, 2001 Spurs and 2002 Kings were all legit, powerhouse championship-caliber teams.
During Phil Jackson’s time as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, I always felt the team had undoubtedly the best coach in the league. Therefore, I felt the Lakers had a true advantage with Phil on the sidelines.
** Disclaimer: I never watched the Lakers play when Riley was coaching. So, if there was a similar feeling when he was coaching the team, please let me know.
So, I am forced to draw on Riley’s experiences with the New York Knicks and Miami Heat. Albeit, he made a finals appearance with the Knicks (1994) and won a title with the Heat (2006), I never felt the same aura of invincibility with Riley roaming the sidelines in New York and Miami as I did with Jackson in Los Angeles.
Even when Riley was coaching the Lakers, you could make legitimate arguments there were better coaches in the league. K.C. Jones, Chuck Daly, Billy Cunningham, etc.
But when Jackson was coaching in Los Angeles, was there any doubt (with maybe the exception of Gregg Popovich) which team had the best coach?