When Jason Kidd made a fool of himself by intentionally spilling a drink to get an extra timeout, he cemented his status as a laughingstock just 17 games into his NBA coaching career. His attempt at playfully brushing it off (“I was never good with the ball”) was about as bald-faced a lie as could be told, and nobody—including the NBA league office, who fined him $50,000—was buying it.
Chalk it up to another bad moment in a coaching career already full of them for the future Hall of Famer. Kidd’s stint with the Nets has not gone well thus far; despite sky-high expectations after making a number of marquee acquisitions in the offseason, Brooklyn has limped to a 5-13 start amid numerous injuries and sniping in the media.
Kidd is just the latest in a long line of ex-star players who seemingly couldn’t hack it as coaches. Whether it’s Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, or now Kidd, it feels like, for some reason, these former superstars have some innate attribute that makes it incredibly difficult for them to succeed when they move into a head coaching position.
In the combined histories of the NBA and ABA 339 men have been named head coaches. Of them, 70 are currently enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Of those 70, 42 of them were inducted as players, with Kidd becoming the 43rd as soon as he is eligible.
Out of 42 HOF players turned coaches, only 16 have coached at least 82 games and own a lifetime winning percentage over .500.
Just because these guys were great players, though, does not mean that they will achieve the same kind of success on the bench. Just 16 have coached at least 82 games and own a lifetime winning percentage over .500. If you eliminate Lenny Wilkens (who throws off the curve with his 2,487 games coached, an NBA record), a Hall of Fame player can expect to average a total of 3.4 seasons on the bench. If you put Wilkens back in and look at the median seasons coached, the outlook is actually substantially bleaker than before, as a Hall of Fame player’s expected seasons on the bench goes down to 2.9.
As you run down the list of coaches who were star players and then flopped spectacularly in the coaching profession, it reads like a dream team spanning multiple generations. Here are just some of the legends you’ll see on this list of tremendous failures:
• George Mikan; career record: 9-30
• Bob Cousy; career record: 141-207
• Elgin Baylor; career record: 86-135
• Willis Reed; career record: 82-124
• Wes Unseld; career record: 202-345
• Magic Johnson; career record: 5-11
• Isiah Thomas; career record: 187-223
It seems like no matter what era a player starred in, his transition to coaching has been rocky at best. Going from a player that stands above his peers to someone who now has to take a backseat to many others clearly makes this transition difficult, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The NBA has also seen a surprising number of player-coaches who, while still being star players, have likewise struggled on the bench. Player-coaches are a collective 1,644-1,805, although this practice has since been completely abandoned (the last player-coach was Dave Cowens with the 1978-79 Celtics).