Pat Riley is the only man in NBA history to have won a championship as a player (LA ’71), assistant coach (LA ’80), coach (LA ’82, ’85, ’87, ’88; Miami ’06) and as an executive (Miami ’06, ’12, ’13). He won Coach of the Year with all three teams he coached and has a winning record with all of them.
He recently gave an interview to Dan Le Batard in which they went over his career. Dan asked Riley what would be his favorite title and quite reasonably expected reluctance from Riley. Most people would give you a “They are all special in their own way,” so he asked like this “Do you have a favorite championship if I forced you to pick one championship?” He didn’t get to the end of the sentence when Riley said “’85.”
The ‘80s were marked by Magic vs. Larry, Lakers vs. Celtics, and even after all his success, Riley went back to the ’85 championship right away. There are a few circumstances that made him cherish that one over any other championship.
First of all, Riley was at the end of his contract and under pressure to prove he is worth the job. The 1985 Finals was a fourth straight appearance for the Lakers, but they had won only once, in 1982. They lost to the 76ers in ‘83 and Celtics in ‘84, so Riley’s coaching was being questioned.
’84 was especially difficult for Riley. That year Magic was labeled “Tragic Johnson” for coming up short in crucial moments, but Riley felt like he was to blame. He called a time-out when it wasn’t beneficial for the Lakers to do so. The following inbounds, Celtics stole the ball and scored, taking the game to overtime and a Celtics win. His relationship with Magic is special, they are close friends, and that made it important to come back in ’85 and win.
So ’85, and we came back. I knew I was at the end of my contract; we just got beaten twice in a row in the Finals. I really felt we had to win that year against the team that we hated. In ’85 when we went and beat them, I remember Kareem after that horrible “Memorial day massacre” game, got beat 148 – 114, and then Cap (Kareem) got killed by everybody. And on Thursday night Cap came out and got like 37 points and 17 rebounds, and we end up beating them in Game 2. And we end up beating them in six games, we came back to the parquet floor and beat them on their court. However, we did not treat them like they treated us. We treated them with class.
This was for Magic, for Kareem, to prove he is a great coach and against their archrivals with a lot of bad blood between the team. To this day his relationship with the Celtics and their legends is one of distant respect. At age 73, he is as eager and competitive as he was at the beginning of his basketball journey.