There’s a lot of similarities because you’ve got two of the best players, of course. We had Magic and Kareem. This team has LeBron, who I consider one of the top four leaders who’s ever played basketball, along with Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, and Michael Jordan. Those are probably the greatest leaders to ever put on a basketball uniform.
This team also plays defense like the Showtime Lakers did. They could lock you down when they wanted to. The way LeBron runs a team, a big point guard, just like Magic. And then you’ve got a great all-around player in Anthony Davis just like we had with Kareem or Worthy. And then you have guys coming off the bench like Caruso and Rondo, bringing that toughness like Michael Cooper did. So yeah, there’s a lot of similarities. There’s a lot of stuff going down.
In May of 1987, during a second-round series against the Warriors, you said “Of course I want to play Boston in the Finals. I think everyone from here to Kilimanjaro would like to see Boston and the Lakers in the Finals.” Do you wish these Lakers had faced the Los Angeles Clippers or the Milwaukee Bucks, the other two teams that were considered serious contenders all year long?
No, not this year. Next year, if we’re in our individual arenas, yeah. But this year, since it’s such a neutral site, it really didn’t matter who the Lakers faced in the Finals as long as the Lakers won. It’s still special now of course, but it means more when you can go to Boston or go to Philly, those great basketball cities, and play in the Finals there.
You played for Pat Riley, who left Los Angeles 30 years ago and has been in Miami for 25 years. Do you have any reaction to going up against your former coach, who all these years later helped construct a team that is now trying to take down the Lakers?
It’s always special to see Riles. We finally got a chance to compete against him in this setting, in this scenario. It makes it extra special because he’s one of the greatest, not only coaches, but sports executives in the history of sports. The way that he can build teams and construct championship teams, he’s one of the greatest sports engineers ever.
What was it like playing for him?
Demanding! He’s a man who doesn’t suffer fools. He expects you to be a pro. He expects you to be an adult. To do your job. Like Bill Belichick simply says: Do your job. And you’re held to account playing for a guy like Pat Riley because he ain’t got time to wait on you. You’ve got to be ready to play.
He’s such a perfectionist and such a winner. I remember when I joined the Lakers, we’d won 10 in a row and then we stubbed our toe and lost our 11th game. I couldn’t believe how mad he was at us for losing that game. I was just coming into a new environment and on another team, anytime you win 10 in a row and then you lose one, you go ‘okay that’s cool.’ But Riles wasn’t accepting that. I couldn’t believe how upset he was that we lost that 11th game. It just showed me how much he wants to win. Every time. Every time out. It doesn’t matter if it’s a November game or a June game.
Would that coaching style work in today’s NBA?
Yes, if you want to win. If you’re a man. Or a woman if you’re in the WNBA. If you don’t want to be coddled it definitely could work. And that’s the kind of players Riles wants to have on his team. Guys who don’t need to be coddled but who are grown men. They don’t do the [9am-5pm] practices anymore, but to be a champion it takes the same type of intestinal fortitude. Eras may change, but to be a champion you still have to be a total pro. And that’s always been the case. If you look at all the championship teams from the last 30 years and look who’s on those teams, they were all grown men. All grown adults. That’s the only way you can win in the NBA. You can’t be a kid out there. You’ve got to be mature.