This article was published by latestbasketballnews.com in October 2020.
By Ed Odeven
Pat Riley is appearing in the NBA Finals for the sixth consecutive decade. Yes, he’s one of the godfathers of the game.
Consequently, it is a remarkable testament to Riley’s career, longevity, and success throughout the years.
The Miami Heat president is appearing in the NBA Finals, which tipped off its 2020 edition (Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers) on Wednesday, for the 15th time.
In addition, he’s the first person in North America’s Big Four sports to win a title as a player, assistant coach, coach and team president.
Let’s review the facts.
In 1972, the shooting guard/small forward collected a championship ring as a Los Angeles Lakers player. (Riley began his pro career as the San Diego Rockets’ No. 7 overall pick out of the University of Kentucky in 1967. He joined the Lakers in 1970.)
After retiring as a player in 1976 after appearing in 528 regular-season games — he suited up for the Phoenix Suns for his final season — Riley worked as a Lakers broadcaster. He moved into the coaching ranks in 1979 as an assistant on Paul Westhead‘s Lakers staff.
Quick succecs followed. The Magic Johnson- and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-led club won the 1980 NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers.
A new era under Riley
Pat Riley replaced Westhead as bench boss in 1981. The Showtime Lakers won the 1982 NBA Finals, and again in 1985, 1987 and ’88 under Riley.
Moreover, they also lost in the Finals in 1983, 1984 and ’89.
Riley left the Lakers after the 1989-90 season. After that, he spent a year as an NBA analyst for NBC, then took over as the New York Knicks coach with lofty ambitions.
As a result, he took the overhauled Knicks to the 1994 NBA Finals, which the Knicks lost in seven games to the Houston Rockets. After resigning as Knicks coach following the 1994-95 campaign, Pat Riley stepped into a new challenge: president and head coach of the Miami Heat.
Riley remains Heat president to this day.
The Pat Riley legacy in Miami
What have the Heat done during the Riley era? They won an NBA title in the 2005-06 season with Riley on the bench in the Shaquille O’Neal-Dwyane Wade era.
The revamped Heat roster returned to prominence during the Big 3 era. LeBron James, Wade and Chris Bosh led the squad to four consecutive Finals.
Pat Riley’s hand-picked successor, Erik Spoelstra, directed the club to the NBA Finals in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Then, LeBron went back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, winning the franchise’s first title in 2016.
The Schenectady, New York, native’s sixth decade in the Finals is now upon us.
Rebuilding the Heat
In short, Pat Riley is the ultimate competitor.
Just ask Heat star Jimmy Butler, a key offseason acquisition in Miami’s latest rebuilding efforts. A season ago, the Heat finished with a 39-43 record. It was their third losing campaign out of the past 17.
“He wants to win — at everything,” Heat All-Star Butler stated in the run-up to the Finals, according to USA Today. “He’s so much like everybody on this roster. And I’m sure he takes the losses just as hard as we do. You can tell that he’s just as excited as we are whenever we win. And those are the people that you fight for, you run through a wall for, because he’s in it with you.”
A rock of stability
Pat Riley mentored and empowered longtime loyal lieutenant Spoelstra, who developed his coaching chops in the Heat organization, starting as an assistance in 1997. Spoelstra has been at the helm since 2008.
Indeed, there’s more to the current Miami product that deserves closer examination.
Riley, who authorizes everything that happens in his basketball kingdom, signed veterans Jimmy Butler and Andre Iguodola, a three-time NBA champion.
Thus, it’s worth noting that the Heat’s playoff run in 2020 includes key contributions from Butler and draft picks.
For example, don’t forget that Tyler Herro dropped 37 points on the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Upon signing Butler to a four-year deal, Riley remarked: “We’ve talked enough about wanting to be respected. And in order to be respected, you have to show the competition that. We’re going to find out how he meshes with our team. We’ll see what his impact on winning is. That’s what I’m encouraged about. I embrace all the qualities he has.”
What’s more, undrafted rookie Kendrick Nunn scored 15.3 ppg. He was one of eight Heat players with double-digit averages in 2019-20.
Ties to Kentucky
Interestingly enough, Pat Riley built twin pillars of the team’s foundation by turning to his alma mater, the University of Kentucky.
Moreover, Herro, a 2019 first-round pick, and Bam Abeyo, a 2017 first-round selection, both played for the same school that Riley attended decades earlier.
A look at Pat Riley’s coaching record
Pat Riley’s mentality
In his 1993 book, “The Winner Within, Pat Riley talked about his pursuit of excellence and his obsession with winning.
“Anytime you stop striving to get better, you’re bound to get worse,” Riley wrote a few years before he transformed the Heat into an elite franchise.
Riley also once said this: “Great players and great teams want to be driven. They want to be pushed to the edge. They don’t want to be cheated. Ordinary players and average teams want it to be easy.”
Total titles entering 2020 Finals
In his days as a player, assistant coach, head coach, and team president, Pat Riley has collected nine NBA championship rings. Indeed, 10 is a nice round number that he’s vying for.
In the annals of NBA history, former Boston Celtics coach, general manager, and executive Red Auerbach presided over 16 championships. Auerbach garnered his first title in 1957 and his last in 1986.
Though Phil Jackson had a woeful stint as Knicks president, he surpassed Auerbach’s all-time record for coaching itles (nine), finishing with 11 with the Chicago Bulls and Lakers.
Six decades chasing titles
Based on the facts, Pat Riley belongs on the shortlist of great coaching minds and team builders in NBA history.
Likewise, his six decades of NBA Finals appearances is a record that will probably never be broken.