Monday, June 24, 2013

Here’s a look at some highlights from the NBA career of Pat Riley, who is the president of the Miami Heat:
As player:
NBA champion (1972)
SEC Player of the Year (1966)
As assistant coach:
NBA champion (1980)
As head coach:
5x NBA champion (1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, 2006)
3x NBA Coach of the Year (1990, 1993, 1997)
As executive:
2x NBA champion (2012, 2013)
Add them up and you get nine NBA championships.
On May 17, 1992, Jim Murray wrote ‘L.A.'s Showtime Becomes Crunchtime in New York’ about Riley, then the head coach of the New York Knicks.

MAY 17, 1992, SPORTS

L.A.'s Showtime Becomes Crunchtime in New York

    The Lakers called him "Riles." The Knicks call him "Coach."
       In a profession — pro basketball — where protocol, for some unknown reason, calls for the coach to dress as formally as a Wall Street stockbroker, Riles goes them one better. He looks as if he's on his way to pose for a GQ cover. His pants are pleated and razor-pressed. He has a contract with an Italian clothes designer. His wardrobe is color-co-ordinated. His shirts are white-on-white and tailored for him. His shoes are London's best. His tie matches. He exudes dignity.
    His hair is slicked back and oiled in the style that hasn't been popular since Rudolph Valentino's time. He is an educated man. He was a (journeyman) player himself, but his conversation is not peppered with the vulgarisms of the locker room.
    He is a supremely organized man. Patrick James Riley does not like surprises.
    He became a coach by accident. He was summoned from the broadcasting booth (where his dialogue consisted mostly of "Yes, Chick") to be assistant coach when a near-fatal accident befell Jack McKinney, and then he became head coach in the fall of ’81 when a player mutiny 11 games into the season deposed the new head coach, Paul Westhead.
    Riley was supposed to be an interim head coach. Nine division championships and four NBA championships later, he was being hailed as coach of the year.
    Still, Pat Riley felt underestimated, unappreciated. The attitude of most was, "Sure, he won all those championships — who wouldn't with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?"
    It was never a surface thing, but its periscope was always sticking out of the water. When Abdul-Jabbar left and the Lakers got eliminated in the semifinals of the playoffs, the wise guys said, "See!" But Riley's team won 63 games that season, tops in the league.
    He cut the cord himself and drifted back into broadcasting. But the networks wanted him to be a clown, strident, assertive — everything but paper hats and noisemakers. Everything Riley isn't.
    Not the Riley style. Riley's image ran more to Father Flanagan than Red Skelton. He was as serious as the secretary of state.
    When the rumors began to spread of his putative return to coaching — with the New York Knicks — well-meaning friends thought it was the worst idea they ever heard. Better to leave his record where it was, they advised, than risk it with the unpredictable Knicks.
    The Knicks were not a team, they were an embarrassment, a collection of underachievers. Half a dozen coaches had tried to make sense out of them. They had had losing seasons 11 out of 16 seasons, and they were 39-43 last year.
    They had one good player, but the evidence was, Patrick Ewing was becoming discouraged, too — to the point where he was trying to implement a clause in the fine print of his contract that would let him become a free agent if four or more players in the league made more money than he did.
    Riley let it be known: no Patrick Ewing, no deal. Riley knew the Knicks were a challenge enough. He didn't want to have to change water into wine.
    Riley knew that, with Ewing, he had half a basketball team already. He rolled up the sleeves of his $200 shirt and set to finding the other half.
    In L.A., Riley's teams were famous for their Showtime glitz and dazzle. It wasn't a team, it was a chorus line. They should have worn net stockings. They came down the court like a Busby Berkeley revue. You could set it to music.
    The Knicks were ditch-diggers by comparison. They brought the ball upcourt like a load of coal.
    So Riley set about to recasting his thinking. He built a team that was as suited to the NFL as the NBA. It wasn't Showtime, it was Crunchtime. The basketball version of three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust. The Knicks, so to speak, elbowed their way into the playoffs.
    Everyone said the Chicago Bulls would fly through the playoffs without a defeat. They were the defending champions and clearly the class of the league. They had Michael Jordan, who walked to work on the Chicago River every day.
    The Bulls had blown the Knicks out of the playoffs last year in straight sets. In fact, they only lost two games in the entire playoffs.
    They were supposed to do it again this year.
    But a funny thing happened to the Chicago Bulls in Chicago Stadium opening night. First of all, they only scored 89 points — which is 20 below their season average. Ordinarily, Michael Jordan can score that many himself.
    And then they lost the game — to the New York Knicks, who hadn't beaten them all season.
    The Bulls haven't scored 100 points in any game in this series yet. The Knicks, who don't usually need 100, got that many Thursday night.
    Perhaps you saw Thursday's game. That was vintage Knicks home game this year. The Knicks have reclaimed the sidewalks of New York. For years, it's been a snarly home crowd ("OK, how are youse gonna lose it tonight, ya bums?") No more.
    To have taken the Chicago Bulls and the Archangel Michael to seven games is glory enough, even if the brass knuckles don't work one more time today.
    Patrick is living the life of Riley again. So when the New York tabloids trumpet that they owe it all to "St. Patrick," don't be so sure they mean Ewing.
Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times.

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation | P.O. Box 60753 | Pasadena | CA | 91116

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