The Guiding Light: Pat Riley's Ten Best All Time Teams
"I have no doubts, I have no fears. The only thing I think about is what it's going to take to win."
Pat Riley said those soul baring words minutes after he won his fifth ring as an NBA Head Coach in 2006.
While he may have some doubts and fears, he was dead on accurate when he declared that all he cares about, is doing whatever he must to be victorious.
Riley is a complex personality. He's extremely intelligent. Well versed in history. Capable of mesmerizing and motivating you with his words and quotes. Yet when you take a closer look it's simple to see what few people actually understand.
He is driven to win by a desire so strong that it goes beyond just determination. It's something that a lot of people can't even comprehend. To Riley winning is more about life and death than it is about champagne showers.
In 24 years of coaching Riley made the post season 21 times. The three years he didn't weren't his fault either. Between 2001-2003 Riley would've had a great shot at a title but Alonzo Mourning had to go on hiatus because of a kidney ailment. Then in 2007-08 he lost Dwyane Wade to a season ending surgery.
If not for those two unforeseen and untimely set backs Riley would have managed to make the post season every year he coached.
Riley is the kind of guy you'd love to go to battle with. He will show you the way and will get the very best out of you.
Simply put Riley is a great leader. As Chris Rock once said, "No man has led more [men] to the promised land than Coach Pat Riley. He may not get us to the mountaintop but he'll get us to the playoffs. And that's all we want.
Beyond being the ultimate competitor, motivator and leader he is, Riley has also managed to carve out an iconic image. That of the Armani suit, slicked back hair and menacing glare. He was the inspiration for Wall Street's Gordon Gekko which was played by Michael Douglas.
Riley's recipe for success was so desired by the masses that he was persuaded to write a book. "The Winner Within." was a best seller and is still in print nearly 20 years after he first wrote it.
But make no mistake while Riley likes to look good and doesn't mind being an author at his core the man is all about winning.
This was perfectly evident in 2006 when Riley sat at the post conference podium and took questions from reporters.
One person asked "just how does this championship compare with the others you've won?"
Riley paused for a second and suddenly became introspective before opening up. "After 18 years and chasing [pause] you know [pause] you keep chasing and you keep chasing it and you get tired."
Those are the words of a man not content with being a millionaire. Not content with having a dream job, house and life. For Riley winning is what gives him life. It is the oxygen he breathes and needs just to survive.
Riley then said that the 2006 title "gave him a sense of absolute freedom from having to chase it, desperately chase it."
Well seems that the satisfaction of that moment has started to wear off. It looks like Riley is starting to feel that hunger again. Now he wants not just a taste of victory but much much more.
By assembling the team he has Riley has made clear that he wants to end things with a buffet that he can never finish. He wants this to be more fulfilling than anything before it.
He cemented his legacy long ago but now he desires to do something special. Something that will always be talked about and remembered.
For this to happen the new look Miami Heat will need to be much more than just good. They need to be absolutely epic. After all besides the high hopes and expectations they would have to top a list of great teams which Riley has already won rings with.
With that said let us now take a look at the "Ten Best Teams" Pat Riley has led to the promised land.
10. 1992-93 New York Knicks
This one had to hurt.
In the opening round of the playoffs, New York defeated the Indiana Pacers in four games and advanced to the conference semifinals. The Knicks won that series by eliminating the Charlotte Hornets in five games. This set up an Eastern Conference Finals showdown with the Chicago Bulls, who had eliminated the Knicks from the playoffs in three of the previous four years.After taking a 2–0 series lead, New York lost the next four games to end its season.
Riley won his second NBA Coach of the Year Award this season.
9. 1999-2000 Miami Heat
This was the zenith of the Miami Heat versus New York Knicks rivalry.
After guiding the Heat to a 59-23 regular season record, Riley felt he had his team right where he wanted them. They swept the Detroit Pistons in first round of the playoffs and then squared off with the Knicks in a classic and grueling 7 game series.
Alozno Mourning was at his all time best this year and Miami had aspirations to claim their first ever NBA title.
After taking a 3-2 series lead the Heat went on to lose the next two games by a combined three points. The heart breaker being the one point loss in Game 7 where Jamal Mashburn passed up an open look and passed to Clarence Weatherspoon whose shot bounced off the rim.
8. 1988-89 Los Angeles Lakers
In the 1988-89 season the Lakers were on a quest to win what Riley coined as the "Three-peat".
Having won the last two NBA titles the Lakers were poised to win it all yet again.
They finished the season 57-25 earning the top seed in the West.
They also had the reigning league MVP in Magic Johnson.
After sweeping the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers faced off with the Detroit Pistons whom they'd beat for the title the year before. This time around it was Detroit that took home the trophy by sweeping the Lakers in four games.
Of note this was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's last season as a player.
7. 1993-94 New York Knicks
With Michael Jordan out of the league the Knicks finally had a chance to be crowned champions.
These Knicks were gritty elbow-throwing players who played far from aesthetically pleasing basketball. They won with defense.
Riley guided them to a 57-25 regular season record.That was good enough to be first in the East leading into the playoffs.
After beating the Indiana Pacers in 7 games, New York squared off with the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals.
With a 3-2 series lead the Knicks would lose two nail biters in Game 6 & 7 and were denied a chance to win the title. It should have been a Knicks championship season but John Starks picked a heck of a time to go ice cold.
6. 1996-97 Miami Heat
After taking over the Heat in in 1995 Riley quickly set about transforming the team into winners. In only his second season Riley had accomplished that.
The Heat went into the playoffs following a franchise best 61 wins and a first place finish in the Atlantic Division.
They beat the Orlando Magic in five games and then eliminated the Knicks in seven.
In the end, Miami was knocked out in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Chicago Bulls. The series only went 5 games but Riley had proved that his team was definitely on the right track.
Riley won his third NBA Coach of the Year Award while guiding the Heat to what was then the best season in the franchises history.
5. 1987-88 Los Angeles Lakers
Riley won his first and only back to back titles thanks to the 1987-88 Lakers team that he led.
After finishing the season 62-20, Los Angeles proceeded sweep the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.
The rest of the journey wouldn't be quite as easy. The Lakers would have to win three game sevens in order to be crowned champions.
They beat the Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons all in final decisive games to claim the title for a second straight year.
This marked the first time a team won three playoff Game 7's in NBA history and was the first time a team had won back to back titles since the 1969 Boston Celtics.
It also marked Riley's fourth title in seven years as an NBA Head Coach.
4. 1981-82 Los Angeles Lakers
Riley made quite the debut splash into the NBA as a Head Coach by guiding the Los Angeles Lakers to a title in 1982.
He went 51-20 in the regular season after taking over for Paul Westhead 11 games into the season. While his regular season record was a great start for a rookie coach, it was the playoffs where Riley took his team to another level.
The Lakers swept the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs before beating the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.
3. 2005-06 Miami Heat
Riley after his "Showtime" Lakers went 18 years without a ring.
People were starting to question whether Riley still had that magic touch. Nearly two decades had passed and it was one frustrating exit after another.
After taking over for Stan Van Gundy early in the season Riley guided the Heat to a 41-20 mark during the regular season.
Then in the playoffs he led Miami past the Chicago Bulls in six, the New Jersey Nets in five. Then Miami squared off with a Detroit Pistons team that eliminated them in 7 games during last years Eastern Conference Finals. This time around Miami triumphed in six and headed to their first ever NBA Finals.
Miami became only the third team to ever win a title after going down two games to none in the NBA Finals.
In the end Riley and Dwyane Wade had silenced the skeptics and staked their claim to history together. Riley's face showed just how much it meant to him to win again. It wasn't so much the jubilation he displayed as a young coach in Los Angeles but rather that of a man dying of thirst who had drank water for the first time in what must have felt like an eternity.
Riley and his "15 Strong" moniker was enough to get the best of this motley crew of players. While Riley won his fifth title as an NBA Head Coach it marked the first ring for players such as Gary Payton, Jason Williams and Alonzo Mourning who got to place an exclamation point on their careers.
2. 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers
After losing to the Boston Celtics in the 1984 Finals, Riley aimed for a little revenge in 1985.
He guided Los Angeles to a 62-20 regular season mark.
This was evident from the start of the playoffs. Los Angeles took everyone in the west out to the woodshed. First they swept Phoenix. Then they proceeded to beat Portland and Denver in five games a piece.
This led to the unavoidable show down with the defending champion Celtics.
While Los Angeles had compiled a great regular season mark Boston had topped them by one game. Thus earning home court advantage.
Boston destroyed the Lakers in Game 1 by a score of 148 to 114. That wasn't even an OT game. Teams actually scored 130 plus points frequently during that era.
Riley managed to get his team to rebound and win Games 2 and 3. Boston would even the series with a two point win in Game 4.
The Lakers won Game 5 in Los Angeles to take a 3-2 series lead.
Still Riley knew that they'd have to go back to Boston and win once in the last two games to earn the title.
The Lakers took care of business in their first opportunity by beating the Celtics 111 to 100 and earn Riley his second title as a head coach. It also marked the first time ever that the Lakers had managed to beat Boston in an NBA Championship Finals.
1. 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers
In 1986-87 Riley coached a Lakers team that is considered one of the best teams of all-time. It had three future Hall of Farmer's in Kareem, Magic and Worthy. It also had 7 players who averaged double figures in scoring that season.
Riley led Los Angeles to a stellar 65-17 record during the regular season.
Then they went on to win 11 of their first 12 games in the playoffs.
They swept the Denver Nuggets in three. Took out Golden State in five and swept the Seattle Sonics to advance to the NBA Finals.
Yet again it would be Boston vs L.A. for the trophy.
The Lakers won the first two at home before losing Game 3 in Boston.
Then came Game 4. This is one of the all time greatest games in NBA Finals history. After a frantic back and forth stretch in the games waning minutes, the Celtics held a 106-105 lead. Riley called for a timeout with 5 seconds left and drew up a play. What happened next would break the heart of every Celtics fan. Magic Johnson's "Baby-Hook" with two seconds left gave the Lakers a 107-106 victory.
The Lakers would go on to finish off the series in six games with a victory before the Los Angeles faithful.
A year after being knocked out in the Western Conference Finals the Lakers had recaptured their place atop the "NBA thanks to the "Showtime" fast-break style spearheaded by Earvin "Magic" Johnson who that season had averaged a career-best 23.9 points per game and led the league in assists with a 12.2 average."
Even though Riley won the title again the following year this was arguably the best team he ever coached and sits atop our list.
2010-11 Miami Heat???
Now the question becomes where will the 2010-11 Miami Heat end up ranking on this list.
Granted Riley isn't a coach any more but don't let that fool you. Beyond being the architect of the greatest free agent coup in NBA history, Riley is very much in control of this team both on and off the court.
This is his team. He came up with the blue print for assembling what stands to be a dominant force in the NBA landscape for years to come. He lured the reigning NBA MVP [LeBron James] to Miami. Kept the best player in franchise history by resigning Wade. To top it all off he also added one of the best power forwards in the game.
Who knows if the pressure ends up being too much for Eric Spoelstra to handle and he begins to feel an urge to spend more time with his family. If that occurs then we will assuredly see Riley back on the sideline one more time.
No offense to Spoelstra who has a bright future ahead of him but I'd love to see Riley back on the bench.
Dream Match Up: Pat Riley Vs Phil Jackson
How great would it be to have a Lakers versus Heat NBA Finals?
LeBron and Wade versus Kobe and Gasol?
Most of all it'd be sublime to see Phil Jackson versus Pat Riley one last time matching wits and going at it for all the marbles.
Riley Can Shake That Derierre.
Riley's got some moves. Seeing this makes me wish Shaq hadn't been such an egocentric prick sometimes. Would've been great to have the "Big Fella" on the new Miami Heat.
Pat Riley Through the Years
A look at Pat during his time in basketball
Pat Riley at Kentucky
Riley learned a great deal under the tutelage of legendary college coach Adolph Rupp.
Riley's Laker Playing Days
Pat sporting the 70's stache
Gotta Love the Cuban Tony Montana Look
All he needs is the gold chain and medallion.
Riley During the Lakers Days
What a tandem to get to coach, Magic and Kareem.
Riley during his time with the Lakers as their Head Coach.
Riley in New York
Coach Riley and Patrick Ewing in the Big Apple.
Riley in Miami
No one player has ever had a tighter bond with Pat Riley than Alonzo Mourning. Zo is the epitome of what Riley want's in a player. that being a warrior who will go to battle with you every night and give it his all on the court.
Riley and Wade
Dwyane Wade, The best player Riley ever drafted bar-none.
2006 NBA Finals
If only he'd coached Wade for longer.
To the Winner Go the Spoils
Riley hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy. Got a feeling it won't be the last time.