As an NBA player, Lenny Wilkens never got his due—he was in Cousy's class as a passer and averaged 16.5 points for his career. As an NBA coach, however, he is a considerably lesser light. Sure, he holds the record for coaching wins, 1,268 and counting. But this is more a function of longevity than coaching brilliance. Wield a clip-board for more than 2,300 games over 29 seasons and you're bound to get a few good bounces. Consider that Wilkens is only 50 games shy of Bill Fitch's record of 1,106 career losses. In 1979, Wilkens guided the Sonics to the NBA title. Since then he has been recycled three times. Why does he survive? It's likely because he's a nice guy with a knack for diffusing controversy. But this isn't '79. In today's NBA, a coach needs to be as adept at lighting a fire as he is at extinguishing one.
Structuring the offense around a leviathan center, presiding over his minions with preternatural calm, he coached the Lakers to a string of NBA titles. Sound familiar? But unlike Phil Jackson, John Kundla did so at a time when his team traveled by Pullman to play opposition like the Sheboygan Redskins, and Nike was only a bit player in Greek mythology. As a result, even hard-core hoops-heads respond to Kundla's name with a resounding "Who?" After Kundla coached the Minneapolis Lakers to the NBL title in 1948, the team joined the NBA and picked up George Mikan in the dispersal draft. Five titles in the next six seasons followed, giving Kundla more rings than any NBA coach besides Red Auerbach and Jackson (9). Kundla's greatest feat may have been getting both Mikan and his talented backup, Vern Mikkelsen on the court. He rejiggered the offense, creating a new position in the post. Power forward, they call it today.