In Pat Riley’s Hall of Fame speech, he remarked “Winning a championship is only a very fleeting moment, the enjoyment is the process of getting there. You can’t always measure success by how high you finish or how much money you have. The only way you can measure success is how you feel about yourself.” After LeBron and the newly formed Miami Heat lost their first finals together to the Mavericks, I’m sure Pat repeated this sentiment to him.
Since that loss, Lebron isn’t as scared of the waning seconds of an NBA Finals game like he used to be. The man who emphasizes the journey over end results is actually one of the most accomplished men to ever enter the NBA. He’s won 5 championships as a coach and garnered three Coach Of The Year awards on three different teams (Lakers, Knicks, Heat). He’s also won championships as a player, an assistant coach, a coach, and an executive. The only thing left would be for him to win as an owner. He had an interesting upbringing in the world of basketball. He played high school basketball in Schenectady, New York at Linton High School, where he went toe-to-to-toe with one of the greatest ball players of all time whom he would end up coaching: Lew Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Riley’s team ended up prevailing against Lew’s Power Memorial High School 74-68 and Pat remarks it was one of the greatest games in the history of New York basketball.
Riley and Kareem underneath the basket jockeying for positionHe first joined the Lakers organization as a player, where he played with Lakers legends Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain Elgin Baylor and Gail Goodrich in the early 70’s. That Lakers squad was absolutely done with losing to the Celtics in the finals year after year, so they ended up winning 33 games in a row and the championship against the New York Knicks. He wasn’t a remarkable player, he averaged 7.4 points per game on 41.4% shooting. You could tell he was one of those players that went hard at the other superstars in practice, and always kept them on their toes because he knew their habits.
He first joined Chick Hearn in the broadcast booth in 1977. Then in 1980, when the Lakers coach of the time Jack Mckinney was almost killed in a bike accident, Riley was asked to leave the booth and join new coach Paul Westhead on the bench as an assistant coach. They won a championship in their first year together led by the Kareem Abdul-Jabar and one of the greatest finals performances ever from the rookie Magic Johnson. Magic was asked to start at center in game 7 in place of the injured Kareem and they pulled it off. When Jerry Buss fired Paul Westhead a couple years later, he asked Jerry West and Pat Riley to take over coaching duties.
Jerry declined, and he groomed Pat to be coach of the Lakers starting in the 1981-82 season. Riley’s success as coach of the Lakers was only matched by the quality of his Armani suits and slicked back hair that he strutted the sideline with. He was pretty much James Bond in that women wanted him, and men wanted to be like him. He looked good but he was a hard-nosed coach that emphasized rebounding, defense, and selflessness. In a book he wrote about the Lakers 1987 championship season, he introduced the concept of the “Disease of More”. When people start winning they always want more money, touches, or minutes, and that’s why it’s really difficult to repeat as champions. That makes the Lakers repeat championship against the Detroit Pistons all the more impressive, which came after Riley publicly guaranteed at the previous years’ championship parade that the Lakers would win again. After he left the Lakers he had a stint coaching the Knicks, and now he’s the team executive for the Miami Heat.
After he orchestrated the trade for a discontent Shaquille O’Neal in the 2004 offseason, he won another championship coaching the Heat in 2006 thanks to Shaq and Dwayne Wade. He then got two chips as an executive for the Lebron-led heat. Even though the Heat aren’t a powerful team since Lebron left, everyone in the league knows Pat Riley can build a winning culture and assemble some superstars. If someone is a prominent coach or player it’s highly unlikely they’ll be able to maintain consistent success an executive. You only have to look as far as Phil Jackson, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, and Doc Rivers.
Pat Riley owes part of his success to guidance from two of the best GM’s and owners of all time: Jerry West and Dr. Jerry Buss.