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Home - Pat Riley

  Pat Riley

Patrick James "Pat" Riley (born March 20, 1945) is a former American National Basketball Association player and coach and the current team president of the Miami Heat. Widely regarded as one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time, Riley has served as the head coach of five championship teams and an assistant coach to another. He most recently won the 2006 NBA Championship with the Miami Heat. Prior to his tenure in Miami, he served as head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks. He also played for the Los Angeles Lakers' championship team in 1972, which brings his personal total to six NBA titles. He is known as "Coach Slick" and "Mr. GQ".

Los Angeles Lakers

Riley returned to the NBA in 1977 as a broadcaster for the Lakers. During the 1979–80 season, when the team's head coach, Jack McKinney, was injured during a near fatal bicycle accident, assistant coach Paul Westhead took over the team's head coaching duties. Riley then moved from the broadcast booth to the bench as one of Westhead's assistant coaches.

Six games into the 1981–82 season, Magic Johnson said he wished to be traded because he was unhappy playing for Westhead. Shortly afterward, Lakers' owner Jerry Buss fired Westhead. At an ensuing press conference, with Jerry West at his side, Buss named West head coach. West, however, balked, and Buss awkwardly tried to name West as "offensive captain" and then named West and Riley as co-coaches.[4] West made it clear during the press conference that he would only assist Riley, and that Riley was the head coach.[5] Thereafter, Riley was the interim head coach, until his status became permanent.

Riley led the Lakers to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances. His first title came in his first season, against the Philadelphia 76ers. Both teams returned to the Finals the next year, but Riley's Lakers were swept by the 76ers. The Lakers lost in the Finals again in 1984, to the Boston Celtics in seven games. The Lakers earned Riley his second NBA title in 1985 in a rematch of the previous year, as the Lakers beat the Celtics in six games. The Lakers' four-year Western Conference streak was broken the following year by the Houston Rockets.

In 1987, Riley coached a Lakers team that is considered one of the best teams of all-time. With future Hall of Famers Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, plus important role players such as Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, A. C. Green, Mychal Thompson, and Kurt Rambis, the Lakers finished 65-17 in the regular season, third-best in team history. They met with similar success in the playoffs, dispatching the Celtics in six games to win Riley his third NBA title.

One of Riley's most famous moments came when he guaranteed the crowd a repeat championship during the Lakers' championship parade in downtown Los Angeles (he first made the guarantee during the post-victory locker room celebration).[6] While the 1988 Lakers did not produce as many wins in the regular season as the 1987 Lakers, they still managed to win the NBA title, becoming the first team in 19 years to repeat as champions. The Lakers beat the Detroit Pistons in seven games in the 1988 NBA Finals, making good on Riley's promise. Riley's titles with the Lakers make him the fifth man to play for an NBA Championship team and later coach the same NBA team to a championship. The others are Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K. C. Jones, and Billy Cunningham.

Although Riley would offer no further guarantees, his Lakers embarked upon a quest to obtain a third consecutive championship in 1989. Having successfully claimed a repeat championship the year before, the term used for this new goal was a "three-peat" championship, and indeed Riley, through his corporate entity, Riles & Co., actually trademarked the phrase "three-peat"[7] via the Chicago Bulls accomplishing the feat twice, at the professional expense of Riley himself). But ultimately, the Lakers were swept by the Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals.

Riley stepped down as coach of the Lakers after they lost to the Phoenix Suns in the 1990 NBA playoffs, amid rumors of player mistreatment and anger problems on his part. In spite of these rumors and his resignation, he was named NBA Coach of the Year for the first time.

New York Knicks

After stepping down as coach, Riley accepted a job as a television commentator for NBC. However, this job only lasted one year, as he became head coach of the New York Knicks in 1991. In 1993, he led the Knicks to the best regular season record in team history and received his second Coach of the Year award. Commentators especially admired Riley's ability to work with the physical, deliberate Knicks, considering that he was associated with the fast-paced Lakers in the 1980s. Riley returned to the NBA Finals in 1994, but his Knicks lost in seven games to the Houston Rockets after being up 3–2 in the series, and it denied New York City the distinction of both NBA and NHL titles in the same year; Riley and his Knicks saw their home court host the the New York Rangers first Stanley Cup celebration in 54 years, as they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

During the 1994 Finals, Riley became the first (and to this date, the only) coach in a Game 7 NBA Finals on two different teams, having been with the Lakers in 1984 and 1988. However, he had the unfortunate distinction of having become the first (and to this date, the only) coach to lose a Game 7 NBA Finals on two different teams, having lost to the Celtics in 1984. It also denied him the distinction from becoming the first coach to win a Game 7 NBA Finals on two different teams, having defeated the Pistons in 1988.

Miami Heat

In 1995, Riley resigned from the Knicks. The move caused some controversy, as the Heat were accused by the Knicks of tampering by pursuing Riley while he still had a year remaining on his contract with the Knicks.[8] The matter was settled after the Heat sent their 1996 first round pick (which the Knicks would use to draft Walter McCarty) and $1 million in cash to the Knicks on September 1, 1995. Riley's coaching of the Heat to playoff contention would later make them bitter rivals with his former team.

In 1995-1996, Miami was swept in the first round by Phil Jackson-coached Chicago Bulls, who had completed the regular season with a record 72 wins. This season was most notable for the ongoing housecleaning that took place, with the arrival of building blocks Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. The offseason would also bring them Nets forward P.J. Brown and Suns swingman Dan Majerle.

In 1997, the Heat defeated his old team, the Knicks, in a physical seven game series. Advancing to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, they proved no match for Jordan and his Bulls. Riley was selected as Coach of the Year for the third time, after leading Miami to a 61–21 regular season record, 1st in the Atlantic division.

The Heat would compile consecutive seasons over .600. However, the 1998, 1999, and 2000 playoffs would be disappointments as they lost to the arch-rival Knicks; the first two in the opening round and the latter in the second round. The 1999 Knicks themselves reached the Finals.

Riley then entered the 2000 season armed for bear. In a shuffling of the deck, Riley traded away Brown and Jamal Mashburn in exchange for Eddie Jones in one trade and acquired Brian Grant in another, although suffering a major setback after discovering Alonzo Mourning's kidney condition. After finishing a respectable 50-32 in 2001 in spite of the new nucleus and the loss of their star center, the Heat organized a housecleaning after the season, as the Heat lost two of their best players when guard Tim Hardaway was traded to the Dallas Mavericks and Anthony Mason signed with the Milwaukee Bucks. In part because of these departures, the Heat finished a disappointing 36–46 in 2002. Riley was so disgusted with the Heat's performance that he declared he was about to "fire himself."

Before the beginning of the 2003–2004 season, he did step down as Heat coach, to fully dedicate his attention to his duties as general manager. Longtime assistant Stan Van Gundy and rookie Dwyane Wade, whom Riley drafted 5th overall, led the Heat back into the playoffs with a 42–40 record after starting 0–7. Riley concentrated on improving the team even further before the 2004–2005 season. One of his biggest moves as full-time general manager was to trade Caron Butler, Brian Grant, Lamar Odom and a first-round draft pick to the Lakers for superstar Shaquille O'Neal. Head coach Van Gundy led the Heat to the Eastern Conference finals during the 2005 playoffs, although they lost to the Detroit Pistons after being up 3–2 in the series.

Riley resumed coaching the Heat on December 12, 2005, replacing Stan Van Gundy after the Heat started the season with a disappointing 11–10 record. Van Gundy had resigned in order to "spend more time with [his] family." Although Van Gundy maintained that his decision to resign was his own, there has been speculation that he was pushed out by Riley.[citation needed]

The move came as a shock to the basketball community, with some speculating that with Shaquille O'Neal returning from injury, Dwyane Wade having his best season yet, and a high-caliber roster including Gary Payton, Jason Williams and Antoine Walker, Riley wanted to try to regain his former glory by coaching Miami to its first NBA Championship. Riley's Heat team defeated his Los Angeles Lakers-days nemesis, the Detroit Pistons, in the 2006 Eastern Conference playoffs on June 2, 2006, making it the first time the Miami Heat reached the finals. Riley's Heat squared off against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals. Despite losing the first two games to Dallas, the Heat rallied to win the final four games and their first NBA Championship. It was Riley's fifth championship as a head coach. Riley became the only NBA coach to take three different teams to the NBA Finals and joined Alex Hannum and Phil Jackson as the only coaches to coach two different teams to NBA titles. He also became the only coach to twice replace a coach in mid-season and take that team to an NBA title.[9]

Citing "hip and knee problems," Riley took a leave of absence from coaching from January 3, 2007 through February 19, 2007. Assistant coach Ron Rothstein assumed interim duties.


On April 28, 2008, Riley announced that he would step down as coach of the Miami Heat after the team finished with an NBA-worst 15–67 record, the worst regular season output of Riley's career. Former Heat assistant Erik Spoelstra was announced as his replacement. Riley remains team president.

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