Entering his 28th season in Miami, HEAT President and Hall of Fame inductee Pat Riley has a resume that is unquestionably one of the most impressive in all of sports. Few in any profession have achieved the levels of success that Riley has accomplished while serving various roles in over half a century of dedication to the game he loves. The list of accomplishments for the nine-time NBA champion is equally long and impressive. Winning has been a constant for Riley, who after the HEAT reached the NBA Finals in 2020, has reached the Finals as either a player, coach or administrator in an unprecedented six consecutive decades.
When Riley first arrived in Miami in September of 1995 he spoke about his vision of a championship parade down beautiful Biscayne Boulevard. That vision has been fulfilled three times, as under his guidance the HEAT have become just one of 11 NBA franchises to win multiple championships, claiming the league’s top prize in 2006, 2012 and again in 2013. For Riley, winning a championship was nothing new. He arrived in Miami with a championship pedigree having previously won NBA titles as a player, assistant coach and head coach. It’s that record of success that led to him earning the highest praise that can be bestowed upon an individual in the NBA. On September 5, 2008, in his first year of consideration, Riley was enshrined with the class of 2008 into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Riley has established a standard of excellence within the franchise, a culture both on and off the court, that has continually allowed the team to reach unprecedented heights and has positioned it as one of the most respected and successful in the NBA. Never was that more evident than when Riley guided his group of “15 Strong” to the franchise’s first NBA championship in Dallas on June 20, 2006. After the game, Riley commented that he had packed one suit, one shirt and one tie for the trip to Dallas. What he brought back to Miami was its first championship, fulfilling that vision he spoke about when arriving in Miami in 1995. In 2012 and 2013, he watched his hand-picked successor Erik Spoelstra guide teams that he put together as HEAT President once again reach the top of the mountain and enjoy back-to-back championships in an arena built largely as a result of his success. Since his arrival 27 years ago, the HEAT are just one of five teams out of 124 in the four major North American professional sports leagues that can boast of having made at least 21 postseason appearances and having captured at least three championships. It’s that success and the sacrifices he made along the way that has earned the respect of his peers and led to him receiving the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Basketball Coaches Association during the 2012 NBA Finals.
For the past 27 seasons, Riley’s influence can be found throughout the HEAT organization as he has transformed the team from its early years to one of the most successful and desired destinations throughout the league. His work off the court constantly re-shaping the roster has been crucial in the HEAT winning three championships on the court. Never was that more evident than the summer of 2010. After two seasons of positioning the HEAT to be a major player in the 2010 free agent pursuit, while still remaining competitive and earning a pair of postseason berths, Riley proved to be the architect of one of the most successful off-seasons in NBA history. His work the previous two seasons put Miami in position to be able to add several key pieces in the 2010 free agent market and he delivered a star-studded class. In addition to accomplishing his stated mission of re-signing Dwyane Wade to a long-term contract, he also convinced perennial All-Stars Chris Bosh and LeBron James to combine forces and join the HEAT to help form the core of what would be a championship contender. The trio paid immediate dividends helping lead the HEAT to the NBA Finals in each of their four seasons together. The star power Riley assembled also produced great results off the court as well, as Miami led the NBA in road attendance and sold out every home game in each of their four seasons together. As a result of his efforts pulling off a major coup, Riley was named The Sporting News 2010-11 Executive of the Year and shared the NBA’s Executive of the Year award.
For Riley the summer of 2010 was just one more example of him working his magic in the front office. Since his arrival in Miami, he has engineered some of the biggest trades in the NBA, deals that have brought All-Stars Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Eddie Jones, Shaquille O’Neal, Shawn Marion, Goran Dragić, Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry to the HEAT as well as add talented players Brian Grant and Jamal Mashburn. Additionally, prior to the 2005-06 season, he made headlines as he helped engineer the largest trade in NBA history, a five-team, 13-player blockbuster, in which the HEAT obtained All-Star Antoine Walker from Boston along with Jason Williams and James Posey from Memphis, all key contributors in the HEAT’s first NBA championship. He has also used the free agent market in the past to help build the HEAT into a championship team. Riley made a big splash in the summer of 2003 when he signed free agent Lamar Odom, who went on to enjoy his finest NBA season to date before becoming the centerpiece in the trade to acquire the then 11-time All-Star O’Neal. He has also used the free agent market to acquire solid veterans Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Hall of Famers Ray Allen and Gary Payton, Rashard Lewis and Chris Andersen to all be key parts of this championship franchise. Riley has also helped shape the HEAT through the years with the successful drafting of Dwyane Wade, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Caron Butler and also scored with the signing of undrafted free agents Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn and Udonis Haslem, who has gone on to become the all-time rebound leader in franchise history.
Riley’s keen eye to spot talent has not been limited to just the players. His two head coaching hires have proven to be extremely successful as well as he promoted former assistant coaches Stan Van Gundy and Erik Spoelstra, giving each their first NBA head coaching job. Both have rewarded that faith by becoming among the best coaches in the NBA. Each has guided teams to the NBA Finals during their head coaching careers, won over 56 percent of their games and at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season, Spoelstra and Van Gundy rank 23rd and 30th respectively on the NBA’s all-time wins list. After leading Miami to back-to-back NBA championships in 2012 and 2013, Spoelstra became one of just 14 coaches in NBA history to win multiple championships and one of only nine to win consecutive championships. His 96 wins and .596 winning percentage are both tops in HEAT postseason history.
With all the big moves Riley has made to shape the HEAT, the most important trade he was involved with might very well have been the one that delivered him to Miami. Looking to change the face of an organization in its infancy and become a solid contender year after year, HEAT Managing General Partner Micky Arison agreed to send a first-round draft pick and $1 million dollars to the New York Knicks on September 1, 1995 for the rights to Pat Riley. One day later, Riley was named the team’s fourth head coach and team president. From that point, the face of the organization changed. Riley brought with him star power, a proven track record, professionalism and results. Since he arrived in 1995, the HEAT has compiled a 1,226-921 (.571) record, the best record in the Eastern Conference over that 27-year span and the third-best in the NBA. Miami has made 21 postseason appearances under his leadership, has captured 15 division titles, the most in the NBA over that span, and earned six trips to the NBA Finals, winning three NBA championships.
Riley’s resume is filled with milestones during an NBA career that spans 54 years as a player, assistant coach, head coach, administrator and broadcaster and has produced nine NBA championships. He compiled a 1,210-694 (.636) all-time record guiding the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and the Miami HEAT during a 24-year head coaching career that is one of the most impressive in all of sports. His 1,210 regular season victories place him fifth on the NBA’s all-time list, his 1,904 games coached ranks ninth and his .636 winning percentage in the regular season places him seventh in league history among coaches who have coached at least 500 games. Riley averaged 50 wins per season in his coaching career. Additionally, his 171 postseason victories rank second in NBA history, his 282 postseason games coached rank third and his .606 postseason winning percentage is eighth best all-time in the league annals among coaches who have coached at least 50 postseason games. His five NBA championships as a head coach tie him with John Kundla and Gregg Popovich for the third highest total in NBA history. As a result of his many accomplishments, in 1996-97 as the NBA celebrated its 50th Anniversary, Riley was named one of the Top 10 Coaches of All-Time by a panel of media who regularly cover the league and in 2021-22 as the NBA celebrated its 75th Anniversary he was named one of the Top 15 Coaches of All-Time as was his successor Spoelstra. Simply put, Riley is a winner.
No matter the odds, “getting the job done” has never been a problem for a person who has seen winning from all angles. As a youthful role player for the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, Riley earned the first of his nine NBA championship rings. He claimed another as an assistant under Lakers coach Paul Westhead in 1979-80. The New York native collected four more titles for the Lakers as the team’s top man in 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988. Eighteen years later, he guided the HEAT to their first NBA Championship, his fifth as a head coach, and then in 2012 and 2013 he claimed rings eight and nine as HEAT President. The 18-year span between championships as a head coach established an NBA record. As a head coach, his teams advanced to the NBA Finals nine times, the Conference Finals on 12 occasions and captured 18 divisional championships, nine conference championships and five NBA titles. He has been honored as the NBA Coach of the Year on three occasions, the only coach in NBA history to receive the award with three different teams. Riley has also captured NBA Coach of the Month honors 11 times. His 21 total postseason appearances as a head coach trail only San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich for tops in league history and his string of 19 consecutive postseason appearances as a head coach from 1982-2001 rank second behind Popovich. Riley has also served as a head coach in nine NBA All-Star games.
In his illustrious career, Riley guided his teams to at least 50 wins in a season 17 times and has amassed seven 60-win seasons, achieving the milestone with each of the three franchises he guided. His seven 60-win seasons are tied for the most by a coach in NBA history and his 17 50-win seasons rank second. When he began the 2000-01 season with an Opening Night victory over Orlando on November 1, he became just the second coach in NBA history to reach 1,000 wins. Riley currently ranks second in both regular season and postseason wins for both the HEAT and the Lakers.
During his first stint guiding the HEAT, Riley led Miami to 354 victories and four consecutive Atlantic Division titles over an eight-year period. Riley, who ranks second in games coached with Miami at 849, returned to the bench on Dec. 12, 2005 after a two-year hiatus where he concentrated on building the team from the front office. Upon his return he successfully navigated the HEAT to the pinnacle of the basketball world in 2006 and added more luster to a legacy and resume that did not need further validation. Riley compiled a 454-395 record (.535) during his 11 seasons on the HEAT sidelines and guided Miami to eight playoff appearances and 34 postseason victories. Prior to his arrival the franchise had compiled a 205-369 (.357) mark, with one winning season, two playoff appearances and two postseason wins in its first seven years.
On the eve of his first season in Miami, Riley changed the look of the HEAT by designing a six-player trade that brought in Mourning, who became the HEAT’s first All-Star. He sprang into action again on February 22, 1996, making three trades involving 10 players just hours before the trading deadline that cleared the way for future free agent signings and brought Hardaway to Miami. Hardaway became a two-time All-Star during his stint with Riley and in 1996-97 was named to the backcourt with Michael Jordan on the All-NBA First Team. Those moves created the foundation in which the HEAT has been built upon and helped send the message that Riley would do whatever it took to produce a winner in Miami.
And the team has been winning ever since. In addition to delivering three NBA championships to Miami, Riley’s HEAT tenure has included many highlights. In 1996-97 he garnered a third NBA Coach of the Year honor with his third team, an unprecedented feat in league history, after leading Miami to a 61-21 (.744) record and the HEAT’s first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. During the 1998-99 campaign he led Miami to the best record and the number one seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time. The 1999-00 season saw the HEAT capture its fourth consecutive Atlantic Division crown. That season also culminated a dream for the franchise as Riley ushered Miami into its beautiful new home, a state-of-the-art downtown bayside arena (now known as FTX Arena). The following season, Riley turned in what many experts claim was one of the best coaching jobs of his amazing career. After re-working the roster in the summer of 2000 by acquiring three-time All-Star Eddie Jones and hard-working power forward Brian Grant to make a run at a possible championship, Riley had to guide the franchise through one of the biggest jolts in its history. On October 16, in the middle of the pre-season, Alonzo Mourning, the team’s centerpiece, announced that due to a kidney disease he was expected to miss the entire season. Despite the devastating news, Riley guided the HEAT to a 50-32 record for a second place finish in the Atlantic Division and the third best record in the conference.
Before joining the HEAT, Riley spent four successful seasons as the head coach of the New York Knicks. Prior to Riley’s arrival the Knicks had posted just four winning seasons in the previous 10 years (1981-91). During his four-year stint in New York, Riley guided the Knicks to four straight winning seasons, four consecutive playoff berths and compiled a 223-105 record. His .680 winning percentage is the best in Knicks history, easily outdistancing former assistant Jeff Van Gundy who ranks second (.590), and his 223 victories rank fourth on the club’s all-time list. He recorded at least 50 wins in each of his four seasons in New York, the only time in Knicks history the team posted at least 50 wins in four consecutive years. The highlight of his career with the Knicks was leading them to the 1994 NBA Finals, New York’s first trip to the Finals since the 1972-73 season. Riley’s teams won three consecutive Atlantic Division titles in his first three years (1991-94) in New York, and his tireless dedication earned him his second NBA Coach of the Year honor in 1993.
Prior to leading the Knicks, Riley was head coach of the Lakers for nine years and guided the team to four NBA titles and three other NBA Finals appearances. After taking over for Paul Westhead 11 games into the 1981-82 season, he led the Lakers to the NBA Championship in his first season as a head coach in the league. Under Riley, the Lakers became the first NBA team to win 60 games in four consecutive seasons (1984-85 through 1987-88). He won the Pacific Division title in each of his nine years leading the Lakers and was honored as the 1990 NBA Coach of the Year. He compiled a 533-194 (.733) regular season record in his nine seasons in L.A. and won at least 50 games each year. Riley, who averaged 59 wins a season in L.A., brought “Showtime” to the Great Western Forum. Under Riley the Lakers recorded a 305-59 (.838) regular season mark at home. His teams also compiled a 102-47 (.685) postseason record. His 102 postseason victories rank second on the Lakers’ all-time list as do his 533 regular season wins.
After leaving the Lakers, Riley served as co-host of “NBA Showtime” on NBC in 1990-91 before joining the Knicks in the fall of 1991. It was a return to the television booth for Riley who was Chick Hearn’s partner on Lakers’ broadcasts after his playing days ended (1977-79). He returned to the bench early in the 1979-80 campaign when Lakers’ Head Coach Paul Westhead asked him to become an assistant coach.
As a player, Riley had an extensive nine-year career. He was the 1967 first-round pick (seventh overall) of the San Diego Rockets for their inaugural 1967-68 season. After three seasons, he joined the Lakers’ in 1970-71 and played five years. He was a member of the 1971-72 Lakers team that won an NBA-record 33 consecutive games and the NBA Championship. Riley finished his playing career with the 1976 Western Conference Champion Phoenix Suns.
Born in Schenectady, NY, Riley attended Linton High School where he became a two-sport star in basketball and football. He was a member of the Linton basketball team that beat historic Power Memorial High and center Lew Alcindor, who, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, would later lead Riley’s Lakers to greatness. As a tribute to his accomplishments, Linton renamed its gym in Riley’s honor in 1997 and inducted him into its hall of fame in 2000.
After turning down an offer to play football for Bear Bryant at Alabama, Riley decided instead to play basketball for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky from 1963-67. He was a collegiate star, earning team MVP honors three times and averaging 22 points per game on the Wildcats’ famed “Rupp’s Runts” squad that lost in the 1966 NCAA Finals to Texas Western. A gifted athlete, he was an 11th-round draft choice of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys in 1967 although he never played college football. His brother, Lee, played defensive back for the Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants of the NFL (1955-60) and for the New York Titans of the American Football League (1961-62). His father, Leon, was a major league catcher/outfielder with Philadelphia in 1944 and became a minor league manager in the Phillies’ organization.
Along with his wife, Chris, Riley has been involved with numerous charity and community service projects throughout his career. They founded The Miami HEAT Family Outreach in 1997 which has raised over $22 million for the South Florida community and whose primary beneficiaries include Jackson Memorial Foundation’s Guardian Angels which supports the Holtz Center for seriously ill children and SafeSpace which is a domestic violence shelter for women and their children. They are also involved in the Pediatric AIDS Foundation’s Kids for Kids organization which they started in 1992 in New York, and the YMCA in Los Angeles, New York, and Miami. For over 30 years the Rileys have been actively involved with Boys and Girls Clubs of America. As a result of his efforts, Riley has received many prestigious awards, including the Miami Project Sports Legend Award in 1992, Boys and Girls Clubs Miami Person of the Year Award in 1998, and was honored by the YMCA Miami in 1998. Riley was also instrumental in establishing the HEAT’s Home Strong program in 2006 which supports and gives aid to military personnel.
Riley is not only one of professional basketball’s winningest coaches, but his speeches before hundreds of corporations have earned him the title of “America’s Greatest Motivational Speaker.” He has been rated by SUCCESS magazine as “The best in his field.” Riley has also completed an award winning 30-minute motivational video entitled “Teamwork” in which he applies his winning philosophies to business and life in general. In addition to being one of the most sought after motivational speakers in the country, Riley has authored two books, Show Time and The Winner Within. Pat and his wife, Chris, have two children, James Patrick, and Elisabeth Marie.