Photo: Zac Schuss, @zacschuss

In a nostalgic reflection, Pat Riley, the legendary coach and current president of the Miami Heat, revisited the moment when Jerry West propelled him into the role of the Los Angeles Lakers head coach.

During a candid conversation with Heat icon Dwyane Wade on “The Why with Dwyane Wade,” a co-production of iHeartPodcasts and Wade’s 59th & Prairie Entertainment, Riley shared the pivotal moment in 1981 when West urged him to take the coaching reins.

Riley recounted West’s words, stating, “But when Jerry West pushed me through the door in 1981 …he said to me, he said, this is you, this is yours. I’m going to be the head coach of a 100 million dollar franchise.”

Facing skepticism from Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss, Riley confessed his uncertainty, revealing, “And Jerry Buss [previous owner of the LA Lakers] he was saying ‘What? Pat never coached a day in his life!’ So when he pushed me through the door and I went home that night [to my wife] and I said, Chris, I’m going to coach the Lakers for the next month until they find somebody else.”

Inspired by his wife’s advice, Riley entered the Lakers realm with a simple yet powerful message: “I said, I don’t know what I’m going to say to him tomorrow. And she said, you know, why don’t you keep it simple? …You’re either with us or against us. So that’s the message that I just walked right in with that message.”

Returning to the NBA in 1977 as a broadcaster for the Lakers, Riley’s coaching journey took an unexpected turn when he became an assistant coach in 1979 under Paul Westhead.

The 1980 NBA Finals victory marked the start of Riley’s coaching success, but internal conflicts arose in the 1981–82 season, leading to Magic Johnson’s trade request and Westhead’s dismissal.

Buss attempted to appoint both West and Riley as co-coaches, but West clarified that Riley was the head coach, solidifying Riley’s position as the Lakers’ leader.

Riley’s tenure ushered in the iconic “Showtime” era, characterized by the dynamic playing style of Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, establishing the Lakers as a dominant force in the league.