Ranking NBA coaches as presidential candidates
- During this politically charged time, it's hard to keep the election and NBA off-season separate. Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich and others are rated in our presidental candidate rankings.
Let me explain how we got here. Toward the end of last week, a friend of mine was fed up with the churn of political news that's dominated the summer. This was the morning after Donald Trump's keynote speech, and things were looking especially bleak. "You know," my friend said, "There are at least 6–7 NBA coaches that would get my vote before him." I would probably expand on that number, but that's not important. What's important is that we spent the next 30 minutes arguing about basketball coaches as presidents. Now it's time to bring this stupid, insane discussion to the public.
It's the middle of the NBA off-season, and it's an election year. We just watched two weeks of political conventions, so there's plenty of inspiration in the air. It's time to decide which NBA coaches would make the best Presidents of the United States.
Without further ado...
30. Rick Carlisle. You may think this is low for one of the best coaches in the league, but you have to consider some of the qualities that make for a successful President: patience, foresight, charisma, ability to compromise. Carlisle has none of these qualities. His irascible demeanor is entertaining in an off-brand Gregg Popovich sort of way, but it would be disastrous in the White House. Aside from an addiction to his own stubborn ideals (J.J. Barea), he'd probably openly resent having to explain himself to Congress, let alone voters. His State of the Union would be 90 seconds long. This is not the change we need. If you can't broker a compromise with Rajon Rondo, I don't want you in a room with China.
29. Jason Kidd. Good coach, young, charismatic. But can we trust him? It's one thing to be calculating behind the scenes, it's another to be so calculating behind the scenes that it's plain to see for anyone who's paying attention. Maybe it could work, but there's at least a 50% chance that a Kidd presidency ends in the new Teapot Dome scandal.
28. Kenny Atkinson. Full disclosure: I had to consult Google Images to see what Kenny Atkinson looks like. Let's give him more time in the spotlight before we trust him with the country.
27. Dave Joerger. This press conference could be turned into a killer campaign ad. What's more, President Joerger could lead to Tony Allen, Secretary of Defense. These are undeniable positives. On the other hand, Joerger looks like he's 26 years old, he's had some questionable facial hair, and he needs better suits before he's ready to run the country. Some of this may change in Sacramento, but we'll keep him low just to be safe.
26. Dwane Casey. Casey successfully cooled tensions with a hostile Kyle Lowry, and despite some questionable lineup decisions along the way, he guided the Raptors to the top of the East. Government doesn't have to be pretty if it works. Right? Wait, you're still not convinced? OK, fair enough.
25. Brett Brown. Woooooooooooooo, I don't know, man.
24. Luke Walton. Nothing would make me happier than a presidential address punctuated by widespread "LUUUUUUUUUUUUUUKEEEE" chants. He could incorporate various members of the 2001 Arizona Wildcats into his cabinet. He could call on Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr, and his father, Bill Walton, for counsel. There's a lot to like. But the best reason to get excited for a Luke Walton presidency—your fun buddy from college runs the whole country now!—is also the reason we should probably be cautious about this.
23. Alvin Gentry. He would have been 15 spots higher if we'd done this a year ago. So much hype, so much hope, and then... Gentry is the Marco Rubio of this list. Check back in 2020, and maybe things will be different.
22. Frank Vogel. Hey listen, there's nothing wrong with electing a boring white guy. Sometimes that's what the country needs. Or maybe ...
21. Quin Snyder. Instead of kicking the can down the road, maybe it's time to pick that can up, fill it with lighter fluid, and light a match.
20. Earl Watson. It's hard to explain, but I have a good feeling here. He cut his teeth coaching in the Spurs family, he mentored Damian Lillard, and players in Phoenix seem to love him. Listen to him talk to Lee Jenkins and you'll be convinced, too. I promise, there's upside with Earl Watson.
19. Steve Clifford. "I know my country," he said. "I watch my country closer than anybody. I'm going to look and figure out what the problems are. If we need to make an adjustment, we'll make it. But ... it's not all these great ideas or things that have to change or that this plan is terribly wrong." Vote for Cliff if you think America should stay the course, guard the middle better, and trust Kemba Walker.
18. Nate McMillan. "Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Sure. Fine." That's the official campaign slogan.
17. Mike Budenholzer. I want to live in a world with "BUDS FOR AMERICA" bumper stickers. I want to live in a world where AP History students are forced to memorize The Budenholzer Doctrine, a 75-page treatise on back-screens.
16. Scott Brooks. Universally liked, if not quite respected. Looks the part. Won't make any irresponsible decisions. If anything, he might be too cautious. We could do better than President Scott Brooks, but we could also do worse.
15. Tom Thibodeau. Thibs would be the first President in history who spends his entire term in a hotel room because he's too busy working to move into the White House. Would he go hoarse halfway through a State of the Union? It's possible. Would he excel in a diplomatic role? Absolutely not, but I'd love to see him eat Chipotle with Angela Merkel. Can we trust him with the nuclear football? Let's find out together.
14. Fred Hoiberg. Charismatic, energetic, seems smart and forward-thinking... His record doesn't quite match the hype, but if that's eventually fatal in sports, plenty of political careers have survived far worse. The idea of Fred Hoiberg can still inspire people, at least outside of Chicago. There's a reason he's nicknamed The Mayor. And he's from Iowa, which gives him a built-in caucus advantage. What I'm saying is, there's a very real possibility that Hoiberg would fare better in politics than he will as the coach of Gar Forman's nightmare roster.
13. Jeff Hornacek. After a year with the Knicks, he'll either be eight spots higher on this list, or eight spots lower. For now, he's in the top 15 because I want to see a State of the Union that begins with the face rub.
12. Erik Spoelstra. He's widely regarded as an expert at managing personalities—LeBron was impressive, Hassan Whiteside is a miracle—but he's also underrated tactically. He can handle this, and if he can't, Pat Riley has spent 25 years perfecting his skills as the new Dick Cheney. Also, our first lady would be a former Miami Heat dancer, who Spoelstra married this past weekend. Also, there would be White House karaoke:
11. Terry Stotts. He spent time overseas as a player (worldly), and after flaming out with a dysfunctional Hawks, he's resurrected his career with the Blazers (resilient). He's smart, affable, and he's exceeded expectations for each of the past three years. The one problem is that NBA Twitter doesn't decide elections, and 98% of America has no idea who Terry Stotts is.
10. Mike Malone. Nobody knows who Mike Malone is, either. But they should. A coach successfully brokering peace with DeMarcus Cousins is like the basketball version of Freeing Tibet. And did you know that Malone is learning Serbian in Denver? From a report in the preseason:
Malone is such a fan of Jokic he even wants to communicate with the rookie in his native tongue. “On my drive home to Highlands Ranch, I put on the Rosetta Stone and I’m learning how to speak Serbian.” Malone said. When asked how the language lessons are going, Malone responded: “Dobro, that means good.”
Vote Mike Malone.
9. Billy Donovan. Good rule of thumb for life: Never, ever trust a major college basketball coach. But maybe that shouldn't apply here. Anyone who can successfully navigate a universe built on grand ideals, policed by inept bureaucrats and moralizing commentators, and dominated by schemers and hustlers... A legendary college basketball coach is more qualified for politics than anyone. For Donovan, the record speaks for itself. That Spurs series was just a bonus.
8. Mike D'Antoni. Is there anyone in the world who doesn't love Mike D'Antoni? What we'd lose in defense, we'd gain in unprecedented economic stimulus. He survived Kobe and the Buss family and he's experienced life under a corrupt authoritarian regime (James Dolan). In other words, he's had the best possible lessons in how not to wield power. For many people on this list going into politics would represent a significant downgrade in lifestyle, but for D'Antoni, inheriting the pressure of running the free world is vastly preferable to coaching James Harden and Ryan Anderson. Plus, obviously, President Pringles:
7. Tyronn Lue. Don't vote for Ty Lue because he won the title. Vote for Ty Lue because played the year-and-a-half with David Blatt perfectly, patiently waiting, coalition-building, and then capitalizing when the time was right. Vote for Ty Lue because once his power play worked, he decided against signing a mid-year extension, bet on himself, and won bigger than anyone could have imagined. Vote for Ty Lue because he's been operating on a different level this entire time, and nobody even realized it.
6. David Fizdale. Hear me out: He's unproven as a head coach, but you won't find anyone in the NBA who says a bad word about Fizdale. He's spent years biding his time as an assistant in Miami. He's won titles, he's tutored young players, and now he's ready for his shot. Currently, that means coaching in Memphis, but that's only scratching the surface. This is our insurgent candidate: his players love him, his peers respect him, and he's already outspoken on social issues. The sky is the limit. (Seriously, read that interview. It's great. And so is Fizdale.)
5. Doc Rivers. Do you want a President who can inspire you? Doc is a better speaker than anyone in the league. America needs to be motivated? Doc just put our tax returns in the ceiling of the Staples Center locker room, we'll all collect when the jobs report comes out. He was a source of stability in the middle of the Donald Sterling crisis, and the Ubuntu Celtics have still never lost when everyone's healthy. He wouldn't be a perfect President—our long-term economic health would be forfeited instantly for a bump this year—but Doc Rivers can do the job. Even when America's obviously treading water, he'll trick you into feeling like this year could be different. Isn't that what a President is all about? This can work. Pick your inauguration parade route.
4. Brad Stevens. Nope, sorry, can't put President Stevens at the top. I love him as much as anyone else, and I'm not questioning his credentials. The dude is excellent. He's meticulous in preparation, creative in execution, and emotionally detached regardless of results.
But you know what? That's not a President. Stevens could definitely do the job—his players love him, America loves him—but in his heart, he's the Chief of Staff who gets things done, not the leader who sells you on the plan. A President has to be smart, sure, but a President has to be a little crazy, too. He's gotta be reckless and romantic enough to dream bigger for all of us. He's gotta make you believe in the future even when the present disappoints. That's not Brad Stevens. That's Danny Ainge.
3. Steve Kerr. What is Steve Kerr hiding? He's so charming and successful that there's gotta be some horrible scandal lurking. But just as you begin to wonder about all this, he'll crack some self-deprecating joke, and you remember to love him.
He's smart, but humble enough to trust the people around him. He can fight, but he's preternaturally easy-going. Of course, he'd be a great President. Just last month, he spoke out to lobby for gun control sanity, and shortly thereafter he was in the Hamptons pulling off one of the greatest off-season moves ever.
His biggest stumbling blocks in office would be a) back problems and b) widespread Warriors resentment, but those are minor concerns. Did you know he comes from a family of academics whose charity work in the Middle East dates back to the 1920s and Teddy Roosevelt? Even in the dumbest hypothetical political discussion, Kerr wins.
2. Gregg Popovich. What's great about Popovich is that everyone can project their favorite qualities onto him. If you're an old school conservative, he's a disciplinarian from the Air Force academy who does things The Right Way. If you're a progressive liberal, he's the coach who preaches diversity on his staff, adores international culture, and took Kawhi Leonard to see Hamilton. Most importantly, he's great at surrounding himself with smart people. Listen to him talk about hiring principles in San Antonio:
"We're looking for people—and I've said it many times—[who] have gotten over themselves, and you can tell that pretty quickly. You can talk to somebody for four or five minutes, and you can tell if it's about them, or if they understand that they're just a piece of the puzzle. So we look for that. A sense of humor is a huge thing with us. You've got to be able to laugh. You've got to be able to take a dig, give a dig—that sort of thing. And [you have to] feel comfortable in your own skin that you don't have all the answers."
We need people who can handle information and not take it personally because in most of these organizations, there's a big divide. All of the sudden, the wall goes up between management and coaching and everybody is ready to blame back and forth and that's the rule rather than the exception. It just happens. But that's about people. It's about finding people who have all of those qualities."
This entire list is a joke, but I'm at least 75% serious about Kerr and Pop. And then there's number one.
1. Stan Van Gundy. Yes. Absolutely.
Read his comments on the North Carolina law that cost Charlotte the All-Star Game, or watch this greatest hits clip from seven years ago. "The only thing I'm ever uncomfortable with," he said in 2012, "is bullshit." I'm 100% serious about this: Stan Van Gundy may not be the most qualified candidate, but if he were on a ballot, it would be impossible to vote against him. YES WE STAN.