From James Naismith to Gregg Popovich in four steps: A basketball coaching flow chart

Well, this, via Reddit's NBA community, is really neat:

Coaches throughout history. (Image via r/nba)
Coaches throughout history. (Image via r/nba)

That's a flow chart (click to embiggen) tracing a sizable chunk of the history of basketball coaching, starting with hoops inventor James Naismith on the top right and following all the way down through the disciples of San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich on the lower left. You can get from Dr. Naismith to Pop in just four moves:

1. Naismith coached Forrest "Phog" Allen at the University of Kansas from 1905 through 1907;

2. Allen coached Dean Smith at Kansas from 1949-1953;

3. Smith coached Larry Brown at North Carolina from 1961-1963;

4. Brown famously cut Popovich as a player twice, once during U.S. men's national team tryouts in 1972, and again when Brown was with the Denver Nuggets in the 1970s, and Pop later worked on Brown's coaching staff twice, first as a volunteer assistant at Kansas during the 1985-86 season and later as an assistant with the Spurs from 1988 through 1992.

More than 100 years of coaching history, from the man who created the game to the five-time NBA champion who has helped define and redefine it over the past two decades, in just four steps. Again, neat.

The purpose of this particular chart is just to trace the lineage from Naismith through Pop, but this coaching-tree history could, of course, be even bigger. Lest we forget, at Kentucky in the mid-1960s, Rupp coached a young swingman named Pat Riley. After his playing days were over, Riley went on to experience a fair bit of success as an NBA head coach and executive, spawning a coaching tree that would produce the likes of Jeff and Stan Van Gundy (whose sub-trees begat Tom Thibodeau, Steve Clifford and Michael Malone, to name a few), Byron Scott (under whom Eddie Jordan assisted before getting a few cracks at head coaching gigs) and Erik Spoelstra, among others. It could also sprout off from Karl (Dwane Casey, Terry Stotts, Nate McMillan), and you could add some names to both Brown's (UConn rising star Kevin Ollie, if you were so inclined, as Bill Nichols of the Dallas Morning News was) and Pop's (Vinny Del Negro, Monty Williams) branches, too.

There are also many other areas of coaching legacy not represented here, of course — the estimable Rick Pitino branch that traces one step back to Jim Boeheim, whom Pitino briefly assisted in the '70s at Syracuse; the Phil Jackson branch (although the less said about that, the better), which links back to Red Holzman; the Dick Motta branch that, most notably, produced Jerry Sloan, the third-winningest coach in NBA history; etc. Plenty of coaches of varying levels of success and notoriety have also forged their own paths. Still, it's pretty amazing that you can go from the very beginnings of the sport to the present day so quickly. With so many of Pop's disciples now running their own programs, that simple trek through hoops history seems poised to continue for the foreseeable future, too.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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