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All About the Coach – Pat Riley

All About the Coach – Pat Riley

During his active playing career, Pat Riley played for three different NBA teams: the San Diego Rockets, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. It was clear Riley was an athletic player, as he not only was drafted in the NBA with the 7th pick, but he was also drafted as a wide receiver by the Dallas Cowboys, 11th round, NFL). Eventually, he decided to go to the Rockets. But, three years later, there was an expansion draft when the Portland Trailblazers joined the league, and Riley was drafted by the Trailblazers. He didn’t play a single game for them, as he was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. There, he won the championship in 1972.

After his playing career had ended, Riley became a broadcaster for the Los Angeles Lakers. He did that job for about 2,5 season, before he had another job opportunity he had to take. As the head coach of the Lakers at that time Jack McKinney was in a serious accident, the assistant coach, Paul Westhead, had to take over his duties. This meant that the job of assistant coach had opened up and Riley took that position. With the talented team of the Lakers, that included Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the new coaching duo won the title that year. This was Riley’s second championship with the Lakers, only this time he was the assistant coach instead of a player.

Two years after the championship, Riley became the new head coach of the Lakers, when Johnson no longer wanted to play for Westhead. He restored the run-and-gun playing style within the team during the ‘Showtime era’ of the Lakers. A new owner, Jerry Buss, had bought the team in 1979 and he wanted the visitors to be entertained by the style of play. Buss wanted to give the Lakers a Hollywood kind of vibe, and Riley was a perfect fit for that. Dressed in suits and slick looking hair, he would’ve blended in perfectly in Hollywood. He led the Lakers to four consecutive Finals appearances, and won two of those Finals (1982, 1985).

Photo: Pedro Portal

The Lakers won their third NBA title under the guidance of Riley in 1987, two seasons after their last championship. This team can be seen as one of the best teams of all-time, as it included three future Hall of Famers: Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. Riley definitely entertained the public and set high expectations, when he immediately told everyone they would win another title the next year. And, he definitely kept true to his word, when they won their second title in a row, which was his fourth title as the Lakers’ head coach. After the 1989-1990 season, Riley stepped down as the Lakers’ coach.

He continued his career as the New York Knicks head coach in 1991, before moving on to the Miami Heat in 1995. This move immediately caused controversy, as he resigned from the Knicks via fax, and the Heat were accused of illegally pursuing Riley while still under contract with the Knicks. Though he had a decent start as their coach, the following seasons the Heat couldn’t make it very far into the play-offs. Therefore, Riley decided to focus more on his general manager duties, and stepped down as head coach. Two years later, the Heat were back on track, they could be championship contenders, and in December 2005, Riley took over the coaching duties of the team once more. The Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals, and Riley won his fifth title as a head coach. In 2008, Riley stepped down as the Heat’s head coach for the second time, and his assistant coach Erik Spoelstra took over.

When the Heat won the championship in 2006, Riley became the first person in American sports that won a championship as a player, assistant coach, head coach and executive.

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