Schenectady’s Riley elected to Basketball Hall of Fame

Mired in his roughest season, Schenectady native Pat Riley has received basketball's highest honor.
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Mired in his roughest season, Schenectady native Pat Riley has received basketball’s highest honor.

The Miami Heat coach and president was selected this afternoon for induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame, a long-expected accolade that comes tinged in irony. Riley’s Heat have the worst record in the NBA this season at 13-64, and will finish with the lowest win total of his career.

For one day, though, all that can be forgotten.

“It means something good, for me personally, has come out of this year,” Riley said.

Schenectady’s newest Hall of Famer

To read a profile of newly elected Basketball Hall of Famer Pat Riley that appeared in Sunday’s edition of The Sunday Gazette, click here.

The one-time Linton High School star has five championships as an NBA head coach, one as an assistant and another as a player. He ranks third all-time in NBA coaching victories with 1,208, has the high school gym in his hometown of Schenectady named in his honor, is a best-selling author and is widely considered one of the game’s best motivators.

But the Hall’s call completes his resume. Most individual awards mean little to Riley, but he acknowledged that this one was different.

“This would represent the 16 coaches I’ve had in my life,” Riley said. “My father, especially him.”

Riley’s father, Leon, was a baseball player and manager for most of his life, and it was from lessons learned from him that Riley’s penchant for athletics was born.

Riley remains a legend among high school athletes in the Capital Region, was a star player for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky in the 1960s and was even drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1967 — the year he began NBA play with the San Diego Rockets.

Four decades later, Riley’s status as one of basketball’s legends now cannot be argued.

“It’s an emotional time for Pat, his family, his friends, to know that he’s worked that hard,” said Ed Maull, one of Riley’s closest friends and confidants within the Heat organization. “You stop and think about the guys in that Hall of Fame. You’re talking about the Bob Knights, the John Woodens, the Chuck Dalys, the Red Auerbachs. For a man in his profession, you can’t get a higher accolade.”

Riley and the other members of the 2008 class will be enshrined Sept. 5 in Springfield, Mass., about a 90-minute drive from Riley’s childhood home. The rest of the Hall class includes Patrick Ewing, who played for Riley with the New York Knicks, along with Hakeem Olajuwon, Adrian Dantley, Cathy Rush, Bill Davidson and Dick Vitale.

Riley’s pro playing career lasted nine seasons, and eventually Riley joined the Los Angeles Lakers’ broadcast team. He was eventually named an assistant coach by Paul Westhead, then replaced Westhead as head coach 11 games into the 1981-82 campaign and led the Lakers to that season’s NBA championship.

Riley’s Lakers won other NBA titles in 1985, 1987 and 1988. His slicked-back hair and finely tailored suits gave the impression that Riley was all about style, but his teams played with a substance that no franchise in the league during that era could match.

After his Lakers days ended, Riley coached the Knicks for four seasons, then came to Miami as coach and president in 1995.

“Riles took guys that didn’t have great talent, guys that no one else considered using as players, and turned them into great players,” Heat center Alonzo Mourning said. “There’s something about having a coach that brings the best out of players. He places very high demands on guys. That’s how he got the best out of guys. That’s why he’s a Hall of Famer.”

Check back with DailyGazette.com for more on this story or read Tuesday’s edition of The Daily Gazette.

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