Comparing the legacies of Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach proved to be an extremely difficult task. Both men established dominant dynasties, which in turn escalated the level of play – even for the NBA itself – to new heights. But which one was greater?
Attempting to quantify their greatness purely objectively is an exercise in futility, considering each man coached very different players during different eras. It would be like trying to determine which is more exciting, a monster slam dunk or a buzzer beating half court shot. Both feats leave fans in breathless amazement, but these feats utilize completely different set of skills. The same can be said of the legacies of Jackson and Auerbach, but that did not stop Sports Geek and Loyal Homer from producing mightily persuasive arguments for which coach was the greatest.
Sports Geek defined the impact of Auerbach’s coaching career as multifaceted. Without diminishing the achievements of Phil Jackson, he explained how Auerbach built a championship team from the bottom up, and how he did this without the benefit of league-leading scorers or an extensive entourage of coaches. He additionally highlighted that Auerbach’s leadership contributed to the development of several great coaches who reached the highest levels of success in the NBA. Sports Geek made a compelling case that Auerbach’s involvement with the integration of the NBA was another significant achievement that cannot easily be measured by statistics. But the most significant aspect of his argument was the description of how Auerbach’s legacy could not be limited to the role of coach.
Sports Geek explained how the famed coach also experienced great success in the roles of general manager and team president. He even suggested that the nine additional championships Boston achieved while Auerbach was serving in these capacities should be taken into account with his overall success in the sport, a logic I cannot deny.
Loyal Homer’s argument focused on the amazing and inarguable success that Phil Jackson experienced. He explained that Jackson’s unprecedented and record shattering accomplishments with both the Chicago Bulls and L.A. Lakers were more his doing than not. He overcame the prevalent criticism that Jackson’s success is more a reflection of his player’s talent than his coaching. Loyal Homer pointed out that other coaches were unable to help players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant reach the pinnacles of their success, something Phil was able to do immediately with each team.
Both Sports Geek and Loyal Homer were able to meet the challenges which I laid out for them. Sports Geek was able to explain how the contributions of Red Auerbach transcended records in the win-loss column and fundamentally altered the history of basketball. Loyal Homer provided a more than adequate defense of Phil Jackson’s actual contribution to coaching champions rather than riding their coattails into the record books.
While I agree with, and practically live by, Loyal Homer’s central assertion – that championships define greatness – Sports Geek points out that considering all Auerbach’s roles, Red actually accumulated the most championships. Equally as important to my determination was the fact that Loyal Homer was unable to cite one clear example of how Jackson made a lasting impact on the sport the way Auerbach did, another telltale sign of greatness. That’s why I am awarding this debate victory to Sports Geek. He unquestionably proved that Red transcended impressive records and shaped the future of a sport. While Auerbach may not be the contemporary name that Jackson is, he proves to be the greatest of all time.