When Did Pat Riley Take Over the Lakers? Why Did He Leave?

Image Credit: The Charlie Rose Show/PBS

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty‘ follows the story of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team during the peak of their popularity in the 1980s. The show’s second season follows the Lakers as they experience several ups and downs between 1981 and 1984. The narrative highlights the tensions within the team and the relationship between the players and the coaches. It also showcases Assistant Coach Pat Riley’s ascension to the Head Coach. As a resolve, viewers must be wondering when Riley took over the Lakers and why he eventually left the successful team. In that case, here is everything you need to know about Pat Riley’s time with the LA Lakers.

When Did Pat Riley Take Over the LA Lakers?

In ‘Winning Time,’ actor Adrien Brody plays a fictionalized version of Pat Riley. In the first season, Riley is introduced as a faded baseball player who played for the LA Lakers and is trying to transition into a sports broadcasting career. However, a flash-forward in the second season premiere depicts Riley as the Head Coach of the LA Lakers basketball team, guiding them to the 1984 NBA Championship Finals against bitter rivals Boston Celtics. In reality, Riley played for the LA Lakers between 1970 and 1975. He was a part of the Lakers’ 1972 NBA Championship-winning team.

Image Credit: ESPN/YouTube

Riley began his coaching with the Lakers in 1979 after Head Coach Jack McKinney was injured in an accident. Assistant Coach Paul Westhead was appointed as the Head Coach and hired Riley as his assistant. Westhead and Riley guided the LA Lakers to the 1980 NBA Championship in their first season in charge. The duo made it to the playoffs in the following season, which was impacted by star player Magic Johnson’s knee injury. During the 1981–82 season, team owner Jerry Buss fired Westhead from the Head Coach role. Riley took over the team a mere six games into the season on an interim basis before he was appointed permanently.

Why Did Pat Riley Leave?

Riley took the reigns of the LA Lakers in the opening months of the 1981–82 NBA season. At the time of Riley’s appointment, the Lakers had won seven and lost four of their first eleven games. Under Riley, the LA Lakers had a fantastic run and won fifty games, losing only twenty-one times across the season. The Lakers also won the NBA Championship that season, further establishing the board’s faith in Riley’s term as the team’s Head Coach. In the following seasons, the Lakers thrived under Riley, who built upon the up-tempo playing style established under McKinney and Westhead and significantly improved the team’s defense.

Image Credit: ESPN/YouTube

The LA Lakers had to wait until 1985 to win another NBA Championship under Riley after narrowly losing the Finals series in 1984 to rivals Boston Celtics. Riley then led the team to back-to-back Championships in 1987 and 1988. The era of the Lakers under Riley became known as the “Showtime” era. However, Riley’s time with the LA Lakers concluded in 1990 when he stepped down from the Head Coach position. Riley’s resignation came as a surprise, especially since he was named NBA Coach of the Year for the 1989–90 season and was still at the peak of his prowess.

Riley would later explain his decision to step down primarily because of his increasing fame and the personality changes it brought to him. As a result, Riley could feel his relationship with the players also getting affected. Therefore, he decided to resign after the Lakers crashed out of the 1989-1990 Playoffs. Riley later returned to coaching after a season-long break as the Head Coach of the New York Knicks in the 1991–92 season. Riley left the Knicks in 1995 without winning a single Championship. In 1995, he became the President and Head Coach of the Miami Heat. Riley stepped down as Head Coach in 2008 but continues to serve as the team’s President.

Read More: Bob Lanier: Where is the Basketball Player Now?