Many people know Pat Riley as the architect behind the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, but well before he ever stepped foot in South Beach, he was winning championships in Los Angeles and cementing himself as one of the greatest coaches ever.
The circumstances surrounding Riley’s hiring were pretty weird. Riley became a broadcaster for the Lakers in 1977, but after head coach Jack McKinney suffered a serious motorcycle accident in 1980, Riley became an assistant coach under new head coach Paul Westhead.
When Magic Johnson demanded to be traded in 1981 because he no longer wanted to play for Westhead, owner Jerry Buss would fire Westhead and attempted to name general manager Jerry West as head coach. However West didn’t want the job so Buss named West and Riley as co-coaches, but West made it clear that it was Riley who was in charge.
Riley immediately went to work with this Laker team and would lead them to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, winning championships in 1982 and 1985. He became an icon for his beautiful, tailored suits and was considered by most to be the NBA’s best dressed coach.
In 1987 he led the Lakers to another championship, his third. That team, comprised of stars Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and role players like Byron Scott, A.C. Green, Mychal Thompson, and Michael Cooper is considered to be one of the best teams of all-time.
Riley would then make waves when, at the championship parade, he guaranteed that the Lakers would repeat as champions. Luckily for Riley, his players would have his back as they captured Riley’s fourth championship the next season.
Riley would step down as head coach after the 1990 season despite winning the NBA’s Coach of the Year Award. Riley finished his Lakers tenure with a record of 533-194. He was the mastermind behind the Showtime era and will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all-time.
On this Throwback Thursday, we remember Pat Riley being named Lakers Head Coach.
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