Pat Riley

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Pat Riley

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Pat Riley is the first North American sports figure to win a championship as a player, assistant, head coach and an executive.

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As a player, Riley was a college All-American [the University of Kentucky retired his number 42] and first-round pick of the 1967 NBA Draft [an epic draft in which Earl “The Pearl” Monroe was selected second, Walt “Clyde” Frazier fourth and future hall-of-fame coach Phil Jackson 17th]. After three seasons in San Diego, Riley moved up the coast and helped the Los Angeles Lakers to the 1972 NBA title. As an assistant coach in 1980, he guided the Lakers to an NBA title. After taking over the reigns as Lakers head coach in 1981, Riley directed “Showtime,” leading L.A. to four championships in nine years, including back-to-back titles in 1987 and 1988. Following a decade in Los Angeles, Riley took over a struggling New York Knicks franchise and guided them to three Atlantic Division crowns in four seasons. He moved to Miami in 1995 and directed the Heat to the first championship in franchise history in 2006. Riley left the bench for the front office in 2009, where he guided Miami to two more NBA titles, in 2012 and 2013.

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Born in Rome, New York, on this date in 1945, Patrick James Riley was the fifth of six surviving children [a baby girl died at birth] of a minor league “lifer.” Pat’s father, Leon, played professional baseball for 21 different teams over 22 minor league seasons. A hard-hitting outfielder, Leon Riley batted .314, collected 2,418 hits, and hit 234 home runs before hanging up his glove at age 43. A two-time Nebraska State League batting champion, Riley led the Class D PONY League in home runs when he was 39 years old. In 1944, Riley had a brief stint in the big leagues during the manpower shortage caused by World War II, getting one hit in a dozen at-bats for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Milwaukee Bucks

In 1947, Leon Riley was named manager of the minor league Schenectady Blue Jays and the family moved 90 miles east to Schenectady, New York. Pat Riley attended Linton High School, where he was a football and basketball standout. In 1961, Linton hosted New York City’s Power Memorial High School, which was led by schoolboy legend Lew Alcindor. Riley scored 19 points to lead Linton to a 74-68 victory in what he called, “One of the greatest games in the history of Schenectady basketball.” Two decades later, Riley would coach Alcindor [who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971] to four NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers. After turning down a scholarship offer to play football for Bear Bryant at Alabama, Riley chose to play basketball for the University of Kentucky. As a junior, Riley was SEC Player of the Year and led Kentucky to the 1966 NCAA title game, where they lost to UTEP. At the end of the season, the 6’4” guard was named to both the 1966 All-American and NCAA All-Tournament teams.

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After averaging 18 points and more than eight rebounds per game in three seasons at Kentucky, Pat Riley became the first player in franchise history when the San Diego Rockets selected him with the seventh overall pick of the 1967 NBA Draft. Two months earlier, the Dallas Cowboys had selected Riley as a wide receiver despite not having played football since high school. The Rockets, along with the Seattle Supersonics, had joined the league as expansion franchises for the 1967-68 season, and Riley opted for the NBA. He was traded to the Lakers in 1970, where he came off the bench to help L.A. to a record 33-game win streak en route to the 1972 title . Riley played his ninth and final NBA season with the Phoenix Suns before becoming Chick Hearn’s broadcast partner with the Lakers for two seasons. In 1979, he joined the Lakers coaching staff as an assistant to Paul Westhead, whom he replaced as head coach the following year.

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Riley took over a good Laker team and made them great. He won an NBA title in his first season, led the Lakers to the Pacific Division crown in each of his nine seasons in SoCal, and never won fewer than 54 games in a season. After nine sparkling seasons in Tinseltown, Riley joined the lowly New York Knicks for the 1991-92 campaign. In his first year in New York, Riley led the Knicks to an Atlantic Division title. They won 60 games the following year and, in 1994, reached the Finals before succumbing to the Houston Rockets in seven games. After four seasons in New York, Riley left with the highest winning percentage of any coach in Knicks history. In 1995, he joined the Miami Heat as head coach and team president.

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Prior to Mr. Riley’s arrival in South Beach, the Miami Heat had enjoyed one winning season in seven years. The franchise had never finished above fourth place, had won a total of two playoff games and had never advanced past the first round. In his second year in Miami, Riley led the Heat to the Atlantic Division title for the first of four straight years. Miami made the playoffs in each of Riley’s first six seasons and, in 2006, won the NBA championship—the fifth league title of Riley’s career. In 2009, he relinquished his coaching duties and, in 2011, was named NBA Executive of the Year after leading Miami to the first of four straight NBA Finals. Mr. Riley is currently in his eight season as president of the Miami Heat.

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Pat Riley knows how to win. A master technician who is skillful at adapting a system to personnel, he has an innate ability to connect with players from any generation. As a player, Riley guarded Jerry West in practice. As a coach, he partnered with West as the architects of Showtime–one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history. Between 1982 and 1989, the Lakers played in the NBA Finals seven times in eight years. With 1,210 wins, Riley is the fourth-winningest coach in NBA history. He took nine teams to the NBA Finals and won five. The three coaches ahead of Riley on the all-time wins list—Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens and Jerry Sloan—have won exactly one NBA championship in 89 combined years. Riley is obsessive about winning. Prior to a game during the 2006 NBA Finals, he entered the locker room and announced that the world record for underwater breath-holding was four minutes. After keeping his head in a bucket of ice water for nearly eight minutes, Riley nearly passed out. “If winning means anything to you,” Riley told his team, “it will mean as much to you as taking your last breath.” Preaching a mantra of hard work, discipline, and unselfish play, his teams won 18 division titles in 24 years. The dapper and driven Riley coached some of the greatest players in NBA history, including Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Dwyane Wade , and Shaquille O’Neal. As president of the Miami Heat, he acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh to form the “Big Three” that won back-to back titles in 2012 and 2013. While Patrick James Riley will always be most closely associated with the Showtime Lakers, he is currently in his 21st season in Miami, the longest he has been with any team.

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In 2008, Mr. Riley was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

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Happy 72nd birthday to one of the great competitors the game of basketball has ever known.

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