As an NBA player, Pat Riley's career was undistinguished. As a coach, he will be considered one of the all-time greats.
A gifted athlete, Riley was drafted by the San Diego Rockets in the first round in 1967. He was also an 11th-round draft choice of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys that year, even though he didn't play football in college.
He was sold to the Lakers in 1970 and played with the team for five-plus seasons, averaging 7.5 points. He was a reserve, a member of the "Pine Brothers," who sat on the bench with a tense demeanor and their elbows on their knees. Coach Bill Sharman told Riley his primary job was to keep Jerry West in shape during practices.
During a game in his first season with the team, Riley got a pass with the score tied and 10 seconds to play. West was supposed to take the shot, but he was double-teamed. Riley shot the ball and missed. He told reporters that everyone groaned, and it was a moment he has never forgotten.
Riley helped the Lakers win 33 consecutive games during the 1971-72 season and a championship. Riddled by injuries, he was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 1975 and retired in 1976.
The next year he became a Lakers broadcaster alongside Chick Hearn. He became an assistant coach with the Lakers in the 1979-80 season after Coach Jack McKinney was seriously injured in a bike accident. Riley became coach of the Lakers in the 1981-82 season and went on to lead the "Showtime" Lakers to NBA titles in 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988. He was selected NBA coach of the year in 1990, 1993 and 1997, and in 1996 was selected one of the top 10 coaches in NBA history.
Feb. 12, 2011