An Ode To Pat Riley aka “The DON” All He Does Is Win

Patrick James Riley was born in Rome NY on March 20, 1945. His basketball career has spanned just about 60 years as a player, legendary coach and all-time executive.

The Foundation

He attended Linton HS and led his team to a victory over Lew Alcindor and Power Memorial in 1961 (One Of Only Two Losses For Alcindor In His HS Career With The Other Coming To Morgan Wooten And His DeMatha Stags At Cole Field House).

Riley attended Kentucky where he played for Adolph Rupp, also playing football for the Wildcats. As a junior, he was named first-team SEC, All-NCAA Tourney Team, NCAA Regional Player Of The Year, SEC Player Of The Year and Third Team All American, all the while leading the Wildcats to the 1966 NCAA Title game.

Coached by the aforementioned Rupp — a notorious racist — the Wildcats lost to the upstart Texas Western Miners (UTEP) who started five black players and were coached by Don Haskins.

The game was re-enacted in the movie “Glory Road”.

The game was played at Cole Field House on the campus of the University Of Maryland as well. It was a turning point in the history of college hoops and the first of many watershed moments in basketball history that Riley would be right in the center of.

NBA Career, Consumate Role Player

The two-sport athlete was drafted by the San Diego Rockets in the first round of the 1967 NBA Draft and also drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the eleventh round of the NFL Draft. He chose basketball and played three seasons with the Rockets before he was taken in the 1970 expansion draft by the Portland Trailblazers. From there he was immediately traded to the LA Lakers whom he helped win the 1972 title as a role player off the bench (The Only Title Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West Won Together).

Riley retired after the 1975-76 season as a member of the Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns.

He was on the bench as “The Shot Heard Round The World” (Gar Heard) occurred with the series tied at (2-2) as the Suns sent Game 5 versus the Celtics into three overtimes before losing (128-126) the game and then the series in 6.

Riley finished his playing career averaging (7.4 PPG on 41.4 FG %). Following retirement, he became a broadcaster for the Lakers in 1977, but when head coach Jack McKinney nearly died in a bicycle accident, assistant Paul Westhead took over.

Booth To The Bench

Riley then moved from the booth to the bench as an assistant under Westhead. In 1980 with rookie Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar they won the NBA title in their first year coaching the team. They’d lose to the Rockets who were led by Moses Malone in 1981.

In 1981-82 just six games into the season star guard Magic Johnson hinted at being traded as he disliked playing for Westhead. Lakers owner Jerry Buss decided to fire Westhead and named Jerry West head coach. West didn’t want the job and soon after, Riley was named the permanent coach.

He ushered in the name “Showtime” era led by Magic and Kareem with their fast-break style. Pat became a celebrity in his own right as he was known for rocking Armani suits, his slick-backed hair which only heightened the team’s “Hollywood” image. He used the uptempo style he’s learned under Westhead and McKinney, but his money was made with his defensive innovation.

Although running and gunning was their style offensively, he preached toughness and physicality which meant rebounding was a must. He led the Lakers to four straight Finals Appearances (1982-85) winning in (1982 and 1985 and losing in 1983 and 1984).

Magic vs. Bird

Riley became a central figure and a main character in the NBA’s explosion in the 80s fueled by the arrival of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. A rivalry ensued between the league’s two flagship franchises led by two very different legends. Boston had the tough, confident, soft-spoken, curly-haired white superstar from French lick, Indiana. The Lakers drafted Magic, a captivating, transcending 6-foot-9 point guard from Michigan with a million-dollar smile and a flashy package to match.

The matchups between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird “saved the NBA” and ushered in the era of big-time TV ratings, the explosion of jersey sales, and global marketing of the product. The undeniable racial element also played heavily in the growing popularity of the NBA, as each player garnered his own legion of fans. You were either a Bird guy or a Magic guy.

Riley’s 1987 team is widely considered one of the best of all-time with future Hall of Famers Magic, Kareem, Big Game James Worthy, plus quality role players in Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, Kurt Rambis, AC Green, and Mychal Thompson (Father Of Klay Thompson and The #1 Overall Pick In The 1978 NBA Draft). They went back-to-back in 87-88 but lost in 1989 as Magic tore his hamstring against The Bad Boy Pistons.

Riley’s accomplishments with the Lakers make him one of 6 players to win a title as a player and then coach that same team to another title joining (George Senesky, Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, KC Jones and Billy Cunningham).

Riley took LA by storm and stepped down in 1989-90 after finally winning NBA Coach Of The Year. At that time he was the most famous coach in the NBA, a legendary sideline stalker with a charisma and Hollywood recognition that had not been seen since the Celtics legend Red Auerbach.

GROWTH: New York Knicks Saga

Riley returned to the booth as an NBC commentator for a season until embarking on his next journey as head coach of the New York Knicks.

His 90s Knicks teams are legendary for their ultra physical, playground defense led by Georgetown legend and No. 1 Draft pick Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason and a grocery-bagger turned volume shooter, John Starks.

Riley’s lowest moment with the Knicks was when he was up 3-2 on Houston in the ’94 Finals and left John Starks in the game to shoot (2-18) the Knicks out of Game 7. Hakeem Olajuwon would go on to win back-to-back titles. Ewing would never get his. Riely never completes the mission. Couple that devastating Finals loss, with the fact that Riley couldn’t get past Michael Jordan and the Bulls and his stay in New York was probably the most challenging stretch of his career.

Miami Heat Dynasty

In 1995 Riley took over complete basketball operations for the Miami Heat. Again he’d have to try and maneuver past the Bulls who were beginning their second three-peat with a 72-10 record regular season. Riley added Hall of Fame center Alonzo Mourning to provide the grit and set the tone inside. Hard-nosed scoring savant Tim Hardaway, workman PJ Brown,  sharpshooters Dan Majerle and Veshon Leonard whom “Tim Bug” aka Hardaway referred to as “LayUp”.

The Legend of Dwayne Wade

In 1997 they were the second seed in the Eastern Confederation going 61-21. Only to lose in 5 to the Bulls after getting down 0-3. As years past they were still relevant and in 2003 they added a young guard from Marquette named Dwayne Wade. In 2004 Riely traded for Shaquille ONeal, who won three titles in a row with Kobe Bryant in LA.

In 2005 up 3-2 on the Pistons they lose the series 4-3 and it was rumored Riley wanted Stan Van Gundy out as coach. With the team positioned to compete for a title, Riles took over and led the Heat to the 2006 NBA Title over the Dallas Mavericks, coming back from 2-0 down.

It was the arrival of D Wade as an iconic force.

The NBA’s First Super Team

In 2008 Riley returned to President and promoted former video coordinator and assistant Erik Spoelstra to the head coach position to oversee what would become the golden era of Miami Heat hoops as Riley added LeBron James and Chris Bosh to the mix in 2010, creating the first Super Team in NBA history.

After a rocky start (9-8) and Bron wanting “Spo” fired, Riley let it be known loud and clear you’re a player and I handle all decisions here. Following a 4-year Finals run with this group (2-2) Bron left and went back to Cleveland.That left the franchise in scramble mode as they didn’t expect him to depart after their run. Bosh’s career was cut short due to blood clots and Wade was steadily aging with bad knees.

The team went through some leans years post-Big Three, then struck gold in a couple of drafts which brought them (Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro). They were added to All-Star stayover Goran Dragic and undrafted signees Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn.

When superstar Jimmy Butler arrived, Miami looked primed to be a threat, but no one had them making a run to the #NBAFinals in the BUBBLE versus the Lakers and putting up a valiant effort losing (4-2) — with key pieces hurt.

This entire dialogue encapsulates the greatness of one Pat Riley aka “The Don” #9Rings #RunsTheHeatWithAnIronFist #Legendary

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