Like most professional sports, the NBA tends to opt for former players when hiring head coaches. Unlike most other leagues, however, NBA franchises typically put their faith in more recently retired players, giving the head coach role an unusually young feel — compared to, say, the MLB or football's Premier League. Derek Fisher, Steve Kerr, and Jason Kidd are likely to be as familiar as players with many fans as they are as coaches. What's also common in basketball's blockbuster league is that the most legendary players, Micahel Jordan, for example, aren't too fussed about getting involved in the day-to-day grind of coaching, usually opting for less stressful post-playing pursuits. That being said, some of the very best just can't keep away from the action courtside and end up taking the reins. Here are some of the best NBA players to become head coaches.
1. Magic Johnson
A true icon of the league, legendary Lakers point guard Magic Johnson dominated his era. Unusually tall for his position, Magic won 5 championships in his first nine years in the NBA and was one of the superstars who made up the USA 'Dream Team' at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. After being forced into retirement due to illness after contracting HIV, Johnson shifted his focus to coaching, taking over as head coach of his beloved Los Angeles Lakers in 1994 with 16 games remaining in the regular season. Although he inherited a roster packed full of young talent — Vlade Divac, Elden Campbell, and Doug Christie, to name but a few — Magic was, well, anything but, the icon's short coaching career ending with a disappointing 5-11 record.
2. Larry Bird
Boston Celtics, Larry Bird, is widely considered one of the best small forwards to have ever stepped foot on a basketball court. A born winner, Bird, led his Celtics to an NBA championship in only his second year and went on to lift two more titles with Boston throughout a memorable 13-year career. Larry was an excellent rebounder and scorer and developed his game to become a serious three-point shooting threat, averaging an impressive 39.8% success rate from range in the last seven seasons of his career. Five years after his final game on the court, at the young age of 41, Bird was made head coach of the Indiana Pacers and enjoyed a reasonably successful few seasons on the sideline. Larry led the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals 3 years in a row, narrowly missing out on a championship ring after losing to the Bulls, Knicks, and the Lakers, respectively. Bird finished his coaching career with a 147-67 record, taking up an executive role within the organization.
3. Isiah Thomas
One of the greatest guards to ever grace the NBA, Isiah Thomas, helped turn the Detriot Pistons into one of the most feared teams in the league. The Hall of Famer made three consecutive appearances at the NBA Finals with Detriot, winning back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990. The defensive legend saw his career cut short after a litany of injuries, Thomas moving into coaching at the extraordinarily young age of 39 when he was announced as the head coach of the Indiana Pacers. Isiah couldn't replicate his success as a player, however, finishing his coaching career after five seasons with a record of 187-223.