Pat Riley Admits '88 Lakers Benefited from Phantom Foul vs. Detroit Pistons

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterJune 20, 2014

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MIAMI—It's been a rough decade for the Detroit Pistons.

This won't ease any of the pain.

Thursday, at his wide-ranging season-ending press conference, Miami Heat president Pat Riley slipped in a couple of admissions from back in his Los Angeles Lakers coaching days. "I personally choked away a game in '84 and Magic Johnson was called Tragic Magic and we were called the L.A. Fakers and sissies," Riley said, referring to Game 7 of the 1984 Finals against Boston.

He covered that to some degree in his 1993 book, The Winner Within. In that book, though, he spent less time on Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals, other than praising Pistons guard Isiah Thomas' miraculous one-ankle, 43-point performance and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's calm approach to two clinching free throws. 

LOS ANGELES -1988:  Head Coach Pat Riley of the Los Angeles Lakers goes over a list of plays with Magic Johnson #32 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #33 prior to playing an NBA game at the Forum circa 1988 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly
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"Later, I asked Kareem what he had been thinking when he made those two shots,'" Riley wrote. "He said, 'I like to get paid.'"  

Ah, but should Abdul-Jabbar have gotten the chance?

Pistons' fans have long felt cheated by what occurred on a possession that started with 27 seconds remaining and Detroit up 102-101. Byron Scott fed Abdul-Jabbar in the post, and the Lakers center recoiled into his classic sky hook. Pistons bruiser Bill Laimbeer didn't appear to touch him. The ball caromed off the rim. The whistle blew. A relieved Riley rubbed his face, touched his tie and fixed his suit jacket. Laimbeer stood for several seconds with his mouth agape about picking up his sixth foul. 

Tommy Heinsohn, calling the game for CBS, said, "There was the foul, Laimbeer bumping his left shoulder."

That's what Abdul-Jabbar has long insisted.

The Pistons bungled the next possession, with Joe Dumars forcing a wild shot. And Riley's Lakers won Game 7 to take the 1988 championship, which the Pistons avenged in the following NBA Finals. 

Well, actually, let Riley tell you, and note the word in bold below.

"In 1988, when we got Detroit and Kareem hit that phantom sky hook foul, he had to make the two free throws," Riley said Thursday. "He didn't choke. He did not choke on the free throws. He had to make them. He made them. And that led us to a seventh game and a win. But the next year, Detroit came back and swept us."

That city certainly won't sweep the above admission under the hardwood.