Throughout NBA history, the league has had its share of black coaches. Celtics legend Bill Russell was the league’s first black coach, when the Celtics named him head coach during the 1966-67 season. Russell continued to play while coaching the team, and in their first year, the Celtics went 60-21.
The Celtics lost in the Divisional Finals (which is what the Conference Finals were called in the past) that year, which snapped their streak of eight consecutive championships. However, Russell and the Celtics bounced back and won back-to-back championships.
Russell went on to coach the Seattle Supersonics and Sacramento Kings later in his career, but his time with the Celtics was game-changing. And since then, black coaches have followed in his footsteps. And some black coaches have made history in the process.
Here are three black coaches with the most career wins.
1.) Lenny Wilkens
Lenny Wilkens was a skilled player in his career, and during his playing career, and after his playing days were over, he went on to become a successful coach.
Wilkens coached six teams in his career. He started his coaching career with the Seattle Supersonics. Wilkens played for the Supersonics during the 1968-69 season when they acquired him in a trade. Like Russell, Wilkens was a player-coach. The Supersonics went 36-46 in their first season under Wilkens but improved to 47-35 by his third year. That was the end of his first coaching stint.
Wilkens returned to coaching in 1974 around the time of his retirement as a player. He coached there for two seasons before returning to the Supersonics for eight seasons. Wilkens helped lead the Sonics to a championship in his second year, as they finished the season 52-30. Wilkens went on to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Atlanta Hawks, the Toronto Raptors and the New York Knicks.
As it stands, Wilkens is third on the NBA’s winningest coaches list. He had a total of 1,332 wins in his coaching career. Only Gregg Popovich and Don Nelson have more wins.
2.) Doc Rivers
Doc Rivers has had an extensive coaching career. He started his coaching career in 1999 with the Orlando Magic. He managed to win Coach of the Year after leading the Magic to a record of 41-41. Rivers stayed with the Magic for three (full) seasons before being fired by the Magic towards the start of the 2003-04 season.
Rivers landed a job with the Boston Celtics the following season, where he stayed for nine seasons. Rivers won a championship in 2008 when the Celtics landed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Rivers stayed with the Celtics until he was traded to the Clippers (a unique deal) in exchange for a first-round pick. He stayed with the Clippers for seven seasons before stepping down. Now, he currently coaches the Philadelphia 76ers. Rivers has 1,043 wins in his career (excluding the ongoing season).
3.) Nate McMillan
Nate McMillian is a veteran coach still going strong. He started off as an assistant coach for the Seattle Supersonics in 1998, and since then, he has been the head coach of the Seattle Supersonics, Portland Trail Blazers, the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks.
McMillian has 731 wins in his career, and has the near .500 with a record of 27-28 this season.
As time goes on, it will be interesting to see what other black coaches rise up the ranks.