Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 15 coaches in NBA history.
Total Seasons: 11
Total Championships: 5
Regular Season Record: 423-302
Regular Season Winning Percentage: .583
Playoff Record: 60-35
Playoff Winning Percentage: .632
Why he’s great: To most basketball fans, the NBA began with Russell and Auerbach, with 11 championships in 13 years, with Celtic green and only Celtic green. But before the NBA’s first dynasty was… the NBA’s first dynasty. Kundla led the Minneapolis Lakers to the NBA’s first championship and four of it’s first five. Toss in a BAA championship in 1949 and Kundla has as many rings as any coach besides Phil Jackson and Auerbach.
Those Laker teams are known for George Mikan, but Kundla’s development of other players like Jim Pollard, Vern Mikkelsen and Clyde Lovellette was largely what made the dynasty possible. Kundla not only managed to turn those players into stars, but also kept them engaged and focused on winning. He was beloved by his players and his teams were unselfish nearly to a fault.
Were it not for Kundla and Mikan’s dynasty the NBA may never have made it as a professional sports league. Basketball had never had a true marquee team, and the Lakers gave it one. Kundla may not be known to the masses, but without him professional basketball as we know it likely wouldn’t exist.
Why he isn’t higher: George Mikan was so far ahead of every other player at the time that it’s fair to wonder if he would’ve won those championships no matter who was coaching him. Though small by today’s standards, the 6’10’’ Mikan towered over every other player in the NBA and unlike Wilt Chamberlain, he had no Bill Russell to oppose him.
Kundla also brings to question what exactly this list measures. By raw accomplishment, he may be a top-five coach of all time. But stick him in the modern NBA and he’d like be lost. So No. 13 feels like splitting the difference. He probably isn’t 13th on a list of coaches you’d want for your team, but it would be unfair to leave him off entirely considering how greatly he lapped the field in his day.
Sadly, we could have more information on Kundla adjusting to a changed league had he stuck around, but he left the NBA permanently at only 43-years-old. Had he stayed in the league as long as most coaches, he might have eight or nine championships and be much higher on this list.