When I started to think about just how impressive Popovich has been, it got me thinking about how the NBA has been dominated by 3 coaches the past 3 decades: Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, and Pat Riley.
Phil Jackson was a NBA head coach for 20 seasons. His teams went to the NBA Finals 13 of those 20 seasons(65% of the time), and won the NBA Championship 11 of those 20 seasons(55% of the time).
Gregg Popovich has been a NBA head coach for 15 full seasons. His teams have won 4 NBA Championships in those 15 seasons(27% of the time).
From 1990-91 season to 2009-10 season, 20 NBA seasons, Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson won 15 of the 20 NBA Championships (Phil Jackson only coached 17 of those seasons, and Gregg Popovich only coached 14 of those seasons; imagine if they had both coached all 20 of those NBA seasons).
In addition, Phil Jackson lost in the NBA Finals twice during those 20 seasons; so, between the two of them, one of their teams was in the NBA Finals 17 out of those 20 NBA seasons(going 15-2 in the Finals).
Another way to think of that is 85% of the time in those 2 decades, one of them was in the NBA Finals, and 75% of the time they won the Championship.
If you look at the 1981-82 to 2009-10 season, 29 NBA seasons, and look at what Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Pat Riley have accomplished:
* 20 of the 29 possible NBA Championships(69%).
* 26 out of 29 NBA Seasons, one of them was in the NBA Finals(90%).
If you include Pat Riley's tenure as GM of the Miami Heat:
The past 31 NBA seasons, Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, and Pat Riley, have won 21 of the 31 NBA Championships, and one of their teams has been in the NBA Finals 28 out of the last 31 NBA seasons.
The 3 NBA Finals, since 1981-82, where these 3 legends haven't been apart of:
1986: Boston over Houston
1990: Detroit over Portland
1995: Houston over Orlando
Clyde Drexler was apart of 2 of these(1990, 1995).
Danny Ainge was apart of 2 of these(1986, 1990).
Hakeem Olajuwon was apart of 2 of these(1986, 1995).
For reference, NBA Finals:
1982-83: Philadelphia 76ers over Pat Riley(LA Lakers)
1983-84: Boston Celtics over Pat Riley(LA Lakers)
1984-85: Pat Riley(LA Lakers) over Boston Celtics
**1985-86: Houston Rockets over Boston Celtics
1986-87: Pat Riley(LA Lakers) over Boston Celtics
1987-88: Pat Riley(LA Lakers) over Detroit Pistons
1988-89: Detroit Pistons over Pat Riley(LA Lakers)
**1989-90: Detroit Pistons over Portland Trailblazers
1990-91: Phil Jackson(Chicago Bulls) over LA Lakers
1991-92: Phil Jackson(Chicago Bulls) over Portland Trailblazers
1992-93: Phil Jackson(Chicago Bulls) over Phoenix Suns
1993-94: Houston Rockets over Pat Riley(NY Knicks)
**1994-95: Houston Rockets over Orlando Magic
1995-96: Phil Jackson(Chicago Bulls) over Seattle Supersonics
1996-97: Phil Jackson(Chicago Bulls) over Utah Jazz
1997-98: Phil Jackson(Chicago Bulls) over Utah Jazz
1998-99: Gregg Popovich(SA Spurs) over NY Knicks
1999-00: Phil Jackson(LA Lakers) over Indiana Pacers
2000-01: Phil Jackson(LA Lakers) over Philadelphia 76ers
2001-02: Phil Jackson(LA Lakers) over NJ Nets
2002-03: Gregg Popovich(SA Spurs) over NJ Nets
2003-04: Detroit Pistons over Phil Jackson(LA Lakers)
2004-05: Gregg Popovich(SA Spurs) over Detroit Pistons
2005-06: Pat Riley(Miami Heat) over Dallas Mavericks
2006-07: Gregg Popovich(SA Spurs) over Cleveland Cavs
2007-08: Boston Celtics over Phil Jackson(LA Lakers)
2008-09: Phil Jackson(LA Lakers) over Orlando Magic
2009-10: Phil Jackson(LA Lakers) over Boston Celtics
2010-11: Dallas Mavericks over Pat Riley(GM)(Miami Heat)
2011-12: Pat Riley(GM)(Miami Heat) over OKC Thunder
I'd contend that if you are looking to predict this years NBA Finals, Miami Heat(Pat Riley, GM) vs SA Spurs(Gregg Popovich) is probably the safest bet. :-)
If we're looking for the coming of a 4th King: I really like Erik Spoelstra.
A local boy, who graduated from Jesuit High School(Beaverton, OR) in 1988, who then played his college ball at the University of Portland, Erik has led the Miami Heat into the NBA Finals the past 2 seasons(going 1-1).
His father, Jon Spoelstra was a Portland Trailblazers executive for several years.
I'm hopeful that Seattle will get the Sacramento Kings franchise, and will hire Phil Jackson as their GM.
The NBA feels a bit empty, without all 3 Kings being active personalities in the NBA.
[Edit Dec. 10, 2013]
For those wanting to make the claim that Jordan, Duncan, Kobe, Shaq, and Lebron have been winning championships, and that they had some good coaching along the way.
Number of seasons played by Jordan, Duncan, Kobe, Shaq, and Lebron without the coaching/GM of Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, or Pat Riley?
Number of titles?
[/Edit Dec. 10, 2013]
Phil Jackson's favorite quote about his system(teams):
"Now this is the Law of the Jungle—as old and as true as the sky;
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk, the Law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack."