Known in basketball history as a legend since his college days, Pat Riley has achieved success in the sport that very few have. Riley currently has seven NBA titles to his name as a player, assistant, and head coach, while adding three more as a top executive for the Miami Heat. To this day, Pat is one of the most respected individuals in the basketball community.
Riley was at the helm of the Showtime Lakers in the 80s when he became well-known for his inspiring pre-game speeches, an element to his coaching style that contributed to five championships alongside Magic Johnson. Apparently, these speeches never went out of style, and the legend of Pat’s inspirational words lived on well beyond his time with the Los Angeles Lakers.
After his stint with the New York Knicks, Riley coached a team that would soon become the Knicks’ bitter rivals, the Miami Heat. Recent fans will remember Pat’s time as the Heat coach by the time he came out of coaching retirement and led the Heat to the 2006 NBA championship alongside Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal. Before that, Riley also coached a talented young player in Walt Williams. Walt recently joined Basketball Network and had high praise for his former coach.
“He wasn’t a screamer, or anything like that. He’s very chill, low key. Pat was a great storyteller man. He could tell a story before a game, you would be so wired and so ready to go.”Walt Williams, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network
We often remember great coaches by the number of championships they have attached to this name, similar to how we remember players. However, there is something to be said that coaches inspire players to push themselves to the limit. While Riley has roughly the same amount of championships as Gregg Popovich, we never seem to mention them in the same breath.
“I got traded to Miami and we were the 12th or 13th seed. Then we had the best record in the second half of the season and ended up in the 8th seed.”Walt Williams, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network
To me, that is great coaching. Consistency is one thing, and Popovich is one of the best in the business in consistent excellence, but taking a team down in the dumps and rally them to success is just as impressive. Unfortunately, that Cinderella story came to a swift ending when Walt and the Heat lost in the first round of the playoffs.
“We got the 8th seed but that meant we drew the Bulls. (Laughs)”Walt Williams, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network
Had they drawn a different match-up, Pat Riley’s magic would have been the talk of the town. However, Riley faced another coach who was great at motivating players in Phil “The Zen Master” Jackson. Phil knew how to not only motivate a group but to tap into each player’s motivations to get the best out of them. On the other hand, Riley used a military-type of approach to get players to understand the task at hand, having them ready to run through a brick wall for their team if needed.
Two different styles highlight two of the greatest coaches in NBA history, but it seems like Riley’s magic is often forgotten as new X and O guys take over the coaching scene with time passing. If we look at what Pat did with the Lakers, Knicks, and Heat, he is easily the second-best coach in NBA history. However, it wouldn’t be for the six championships, but it would be for bringing some of the most inspired and hard-nosed basketball the NBA has ever seen.