Pat Riley knows how to build a basketball dynasty
If there was one thing that Miami Heat’s President Pat Riley learned about growing up in Schenectady, N. Y. during the 1950’s, it was how to win and what it takes to build a winning team that could even turn into that over-used term—a dynasty.
Riley was surrounded by the will to win, even as a young boy, with his Dad Lee Riley, who played 22 years as a minor league baseball player and later as a very successful minor league manager. His older brother Lee, Jr. was a football player with the old New York Titans of the American Football League.
That effort it takes to be a winner was prevalent every day in his household and it just automatically rubbed off on Pat at a very young age. He was the star basketball player in the sixth grade at St. Joseph’s Catholic School and continued to be the main man on the court at Linton High School, where he was named as a high school All-American.
One of the highlights of his high school career was Linton High’s 74-68 victory over New York City’s Power Memorial on Dec. 29, 1961 whose star player was a tall skinny kid named Lew Alcindor (who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar and was coached by Riley on the Los Angeles Lakers).
Riley called that game against Power Memorial, “One of the greatest games in the history of Schenectady basketball.”
When that career ended, after Linton won just about every accolade available in the state of New York at the time, nearly every major college in the nation was after him to sign a basketball scholarship, with Adolph Rupp coming out the winner and landing Riley at the University of Kentucky.
Rupp built a pretty good dynasty of his own at Lexington, coaching the Wildcats from 1931-1972 and landing third on the all-time list of winning college coaches with 876 career victories, behind only Bobby Knight and Dean Smith.
Riley was a two-sport athlete at Kentucky playing both basketball and football. But he starred as a basketball player and as a junior on the 1966 Wildcats team that finished No. 1 in the nation, Riley was named first-team All-SEC, All-NCAA Tournament Team, NCAA Regional Player of the Year, SEC Player of the Year and AP Third Team All-American.
Riley was selected by the San Diego Rockets in the first round of the 1967 NBA draft and was also drafted as a wide receiver by the Dallas Cowboys in the 11th round of the 1967 NFL draft.
He joined the Rockets and was later selected by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1970 NBA expansion draft, but immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he helped them win the 1972 NBA Championship. He retired after the 1975-76 season as a member of the Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns.
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 in a near-fatal bicycle accident, assistant Paul Westhead took over the team’s head coaching duties and Riley moved from the broadcast booth to the bench as one of Westhead’s assistants.
Six games into the 1981-82 season Magic Johnson said he was unhappy playing for Westhead and wanted to be traded. So Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss instead fired Westhead and made Riley head coach. The rest is history.
Riley led the Lakers to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, with his first title coming in his first season against the Philadelphia 76ers. His Lakers’ four-year Western Conference streak was broken in 1986 by the Houston Rockets, so Riley put together a Lakers team that is considered one of the best teams of all times.
With future Hall of Famers Magic Johnson, Jabbar and James Worthy as a nucleus surrounded by Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, A.C. Green, Mychal Thompson and Kurt Rambis, the Lakers finished 65-17 in the regular season, third-best in franchise history and beat the Boston Celtics in six games winning Riley his third NBA title.
After being named NBA Coach of the Year for the first time after the 1990 playoffs, Riley stepped down as coach of the Lakers.
He was named head coach of the New York Knicks in 1991 and led the team to their best regular-season record in team history in 1993, garnering his second NBA Coach of the Year Award.
Riley resigned from the Knicks in 1995 and became head coach of the Miami Heat and was swept in the first round by the Chicago Bulls. Riley immediately did a housecleaning job and practically rebuilt the Heat.
The following year in 1997 the Heat defeated his old team the Knicks and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. He was selected NBA Coach of the Year for the third time after leading Miami to a 61-21 regular-season record.
Before the start of the 2003-04 season Riley stepped down as the Heat coach to fully dedicate his attention to his duties as general manager. Again he re-vamped the personnel of the Heat and with Dwayne Wade coming off his best season, Riley wanted to try to regain his former glory by coaching Miami to its first NBA championship.
Miami did reach the finals in 2006 and squared off against the Dallas Mavericks. Despite losing the first two games at Dallas, Riley spurred the Heat to four straight wins and their first NBA Championship.
It was Riley’s fifth championship as a head coach as he became the ONLY NBA coach to take three to take three different teams to the NBA finals.
On April 28, 2008 Riley announced he would step down as the Miami Heat’s head coach and would assume his position as team president.
After the 2009-10 season, Riley began clearing room under the salary cap to allow the signing of LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Wade as the nucleus of what many described as a “Super Team.”
This so-called Super Team began pursuit of their second NBA championship yesterday (Tuesday) as a 4 ½-point favorite against the Dallas Mavericks, who are determined to avenge the 2006 fiasco.
As much as this Korner supports Texas teams, this time I must go with my fellow Schenectadian Pat Riley and his ability to build championship teams that could very easily turn into a basketball dynasty this time. But it might take the Miami Heat seven games to get the job done!!
KWICKIES…The Lamar Cardinal baseball team might have set some kind of record by being bounced from the double-elimination Southland Conference tournament in a period of less than 24 hours. The Cards lost to Stephen F. Austin in the opening round in a noon game last Wednesday and then lost in a 9 a.m. game on Thursday to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Congrats to Rev. Forrest Wood for his hole-in-one last Tuesday on the Par-3 No. 14 hole at Sunset Grove Country Club. Rev. Wood scored his 159-yard ace with a five iron. Witnessing the feat was his wife Nancy, who had an ace of her own not too long ago.
A tip of the Korner Kap to the Bridge City Cardinals’ baseball team for getting to the Region III semifinals before losing to a strong Waco Robinson team twice last weekend. The Big Red lost a slugfest Saturday, 13-12.
After being swept in pathetic fashion in all three games by the Arizona Diamondbacks at Minute Maid Park last weekend, the Houston Astros came out of their cocoon on Memorial Day by slugging four home runs and whipping the Chicago Cubbies 12-7 at Wrigley Field Monday afternoon.
JUST BETWEEN US…Although he doesn’t have too much experience as a head coach, I think the Houston Rockets got a good one in former Boston Celtics Hall of Famer Kevin McHale. He knows basketball, has been around winners his entire career and gets along great with players, so he should be a perfect match.