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NOT JUST A PRETTY FACE
Kenny Moore
October 28, 1985
Beneath those movie-star looks, Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley is an introspective man who still feels the steadying influence of his father, Lee (in Phillie uniform)
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October 28, 1985

Not Just A Pretty Face

Beneath those movie-star looks, Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley is an introspective man who still feels the steadying influence of his father, Lee (in Phillie uniform)

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"Hell, yes, his way of dressing had an effect on us," says Rambis. "He made us wear sport coats and slacks on the plane."

"Dress is a decorum I have to keep as a coach," says Riley. "My father was always very natty. But I've changed. My first year I was slacks, coat, tie, very soft. Then it began to change to more authority, and suits. But never a vest. That's too much. That's too sincere. And no pinstripes. The only pin-striped suit I ever wore was during the steam-bath game, Number 5 in Boston in 1984. It was silk, and pretty soon it was soaked. In the middle of the third quarter, Bertka leaned over and said, 'Your pants have lost their crease.'

"So I'm trying to run my fingers along the silk and preserve the crease. We're having fun, keeping sane in a game where they're blowing us out. But it ruined that suit. I went back to the guy who sold me the fabric. 'It was no good,' I said. 'No, it was your sweat,' he said. 'Your fabric should be able to take my sweat,' I said."

A description of Riley that he prizes, uttered by Tom Calloway, a friend, is: "Just because you're a street fighter doesn't mean you have to look like one or act like one."

West says, "You could coach in a clown's outfit if you want, but you gotta coach." West gets emotional about how lightly Riley is taken in L.A. "It's damn time he got some credit. You never see the Coach of the Year coming from the better teams, but there is a reason why those teams are better. He's inventive, he makes good, quick adjustments in games, he handles the losses real well, he has the faith of the team and the knowledge to design an offense for the players and not the coach. He has tremendous belief in himself and his sense of his role here. He is the perfect temperament at this time for this team."

That last sentence turns a testimonial into something that sounds disturbingly fleeting. "I do hope he understands how fickle this job is," says West. "I mean the institution of pro basketball coach. In this league you are judged on wins late in the season."

Riley, with the sunset before him, the mists rising toward his promontory, ponders all this. "I know," he says. "The first thing to change is always the coach. I don't think about it. But I know what it's like on the other side, too, and it's not bad. Anonymity is a very pleasant space." He is quiet for a while.

"I like the heat of being with such a great team. Being out there, exposed, tested, it's all been very positive. Not to say that I crave it, for me. But—and I've never put it in quite these words before—what has come to me because of the team's success is respect. That's what I always played for. Role players work desperately for appreciation. They're always saying, 'Hey, look at me. I played well, too.' Even in charge, I think of myself as a role player. I probably always will." He watches the volleyball players straggling off the beach below. "I guess there's some irony in there somewhere."

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