Pat Riley has been one of the NBA
's most successful coaches, winning four NBA titles coaching the Los Angeles Lakers
in the 1980's, and turning the New York Knicks
and Miami Heat
into legitimate playoff teams.
Patrick James Riley was born on March 20, 1945, in Rome, New York. Riley was born into a sports family. His father, Leon, briefly played baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies, and his older brother Lee had an eight-year career as a defensive back in the AFL. Riley grew to be 6-foot-4, and chose basketball. He was a college star at Kentucky, and was picked seventh by the San Diego Clippers in the 1967 draft. Riley's game did not translate well to the pros, and spent his entire career as a reserve guard, posting a career average of only 7.4 points per game between 1968 and 1976 for the Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Phoenix Suns. Riley was a reserve on the 1972 Lakers' championship team.
Riley spent the 1978 and 1979 seasons as a Lakers' broadcaster, then joined the coaching staff as an assistant in 1980. When coach Paul Westhead was fired eleven games into the 1982 season, Riley took over. In Riley's first season, the Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers for the NBA championship. While Riley arguably had the best talent in the game (Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy), he nevertheless provided a steady hand on the reins and brought the Lakers to the Finals nearly every season.
Pat Riley's NBA Finals record:
1982--Lakers defeat 76ers, 4-2
1983--Lakers lose to 76ers, 4-0
1984--Lakers lose to Boston Celtics, 4-3
1985--Lakers defeat Celtics, 4-2
1987--Lakers defeat Celtics, 4-2
1988--Lakers defeat Detroit Pistons, 4-3
1989--Lakers lose to Pistons, 4-0
1994--Knicks lose to Houston Rockets, 4-3
Riley left the Lakers after the 1990 season and spent one season broadcasting for NBC before accepting the vacant coaching position of the New York Knicks.
Riley quickly set about molding a Knicks team that bore no resemblance to the high-flying, fast-breaking, Showtime Lakers. The Knicks were a grind-it-out defensive club more in the mold of Chuck Daly's Detroit teams. Riley relied heavily on defensive intimidators Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason, and scrappy three-point bomber John Starks to complement All-Star center Patrick Ewing. Riley rescued Mason and Starks off of the NBA junk pile. Mason had been playing in Turkey, and Starks had been bagging groceries during the CBA offseason. Under Riley, the Knicks won the Atlantic Conference three times in four years. However, in a move regarded as a shocking betrayal by the New York fans, Riley resigned after the 1995 season to accept a job with the Miami Heat as coach, general manager, and president.
Riley built a similar team in Miami, trading for an All-Star center in Alonzo Mourning, and bringing in junkyard dogs such as P.J. Brown and Dan Majerle to play defense. The Heat were transformed into a winning team under Riley, but only made it out of the first round two times in six years, as the NBA's style of play once again began to favor offensively-minded teams.
Riley's Heat met his old team, the Knicks, four times in that stretch and won only once, as Riley was badly outcoached by his protege Jeff Van Gundy. The Heat's most recent playoff meltdown came against the Charlotte Hornets. Riley had pulled off a trade with Charlotte prior to the 2001 season, sending longtime Heat players Jamal Mashburn and P.J. Brown to Charlotte. The Heat were swept, losing all three games by wide margins, as Mashburn played the best basketball of his career.
While Riley holds the NBA record for playoff wins as a coach with 155, and has won over a thousand regular-season games in his career, he is considered to be something of a dinosaur among NBA coaches. Riley is criticized for his exhaustive practices, which seem to tire out his teams by the end of the season. His 2002 Miami squad is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in Riley's coaching career.