A Winning Philosophy
Asked during this time to describe his winning philosophy that helped the Lakers perform so well, Riley told Cotton, "When I came in, I'd never coached anywhere before, so what I started doing was teaching a philosophy that I didn't know I'd even had. There were never any ABCs, but over the years there's definitely been a definitive series of things I believe in." One of those things that he believes in, is something Riley has consistently promoted at each of the three NBA teams he has coached—the power of teamwork. Not one to believe in individual grandstanding, his style of coaching has each team member pulling for the others to create a whole that is greater than the some of its parts. "I'm a tremendous believer in peer pressure," he told Cotton. "I look at our team as a big circle with 12 parts and I'm on the perimeter just trying to make sure it stays enclosed. It's okay for a player to have space and to get out on a limb at times, but he has to be aware of the others and that they will pull him back in."
Riley left the Lakers in 1990, going to work for the NBC television network as co-host of a show called NBA Showtime. He held this job only until 1991, when he went to work for the New York Knicks as head coach. During his four years with the Knicks, Riley led the team to four playoffs in a row, concluding his time with a .680 winning percentage, the best in the history of the team. His 50 wins in each of his four years with the team also set a record for the team. In 1994, Riley led the Knicks to the NBA finals. It was the first time the team had made it to the finals since the 1972-73 season. His work with the Knicks earned him recognition as NBA Coach of the Year in 1993. It was the second time he had won the honor.
Riley moved from the Knicks to become head coach of the Miami Heat in September, 1995. One of his first moves on taking charge was to bring in center Alonzo Mourning, who subsequently became the team's star player. In the 1996-97 season Riley received his third NBA Coach of the Year honor, becoming the first to be named Coach of the Year while with three different teams. In December, 1997, Riley also earned Coach of the Month honors.
One of Riley's major accomplishments with the Heat has been to lead his team to a remarkable recovery from the devastating loss of Alonzo Mourning. Mourning had to drop out of the game in 2000 because of kidney disease. Analysts wrote off the rest of the season for the Heat, but Riley successfully juggled his remaining players to lead his team to a 50-32 win-loss record to finish second in the Atlantic Division.