An NBA coach has won the championship in their first year leading their franchise just nine times in history, but it has become a recent trend.
It was a remarkable risk for the Toronto Raptors to move on from 2018 Coach of the Year winner Dwane Casey. Of course, there were several variables that helped Nick Nurse make the leap that Casey never could. LeBron James left the Eastern Conference for the first time in his career. The Raptors landed Kawhi Leonard in a fantastic offseason trade. Toronto faced an injury-riddled version of the Golden State Warriors.
However, that is no knock against Nurse, who accomplished an incredibly rare feat and silenced all doubters in the process. But while uncommon, he joins Golden State’s Steve Kerr and former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Ty Lue as the most recent recipients of such a goal.
This means that the last three times an NBA coach won their first title, they accomplished it their first year at the helm of their organization. Kerr did such following Mark Jackson for the Warriors and Lue achieved it after taking over for David Blatt with the Cavaliers.
Before that, an NBA coach hadn’t won a title their first year as a head coach since Pat Riley took home the trophy in 1982. Paul Westhead did the same in 1980, but all other examples were before 1956.
Eddie Gottlieb won the inaugural season, which shouldn’t count considering anyone would have been eligible. Buddy Jeannette and John Kundla won right after the teams that they were coaching moved from the ABL/NBL to the NBA, showing valuable previous experience.
Something else worth considering is that NBA coaches who won the title in their first year typically had more experience as an assistant coach than Kerr, Lue and Nurse bragged.
For example, Erik Spoelstra and Rick Carlisle both served as assistant coaches for over a decade (with several years of head coaching under their belt as well) before raising the trophy. Rudy Tomjanovic and KC Jones had both been assistants for nearly 10 years as well.
Nurse does make history as he becomes the first champion with head coaching experience in Europe. He is the second with experience in the NBA’s minor league experience – the other is Phil Jackson.
HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed research to this report