Heat president Pat Riley says Magic Johnson would beat LeBron James 1-on-1

American Express Teamed Up with Magic Johnson and Pat Riley on Monday. (Photos by Andrew Bernstein, Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Pat Riley and Magic Johnson have had a unique relationship for nearly 40 years as allies and adversaries.

Now, not only are the two on opposite sides, but in the same capacity with Johnson joining the Lakers as team president this year, the same title Riley holds with the Miami Heat.

On Monday, the two were together at the “American Express Teamed Up” event in Los Angeles, as part of a panel moderated by Cari Champion. The Hall of Famers were asked questions about a variety of subjects including their time together in Los Angeles where they won four titles with Riley as the head coach and Magic the point guard, this year’s Finals and what would happen if they got together to talk trades.

Here are Riley’s views on different subjects courtesy ESPN’s Arash Markazi’s twitter feed:

On what will happen when they are talking about making a trade with each other:

“It depends on who calls who first. If I call him first then he ain’t going to say anything. If he calls me first I’m going to say, ‘I know that I can make your team better. .. Let’s have a conversation, let’s forget about the cap ramifications and start talking player personal. … I got a treasure of players. ..’”

On the best way to make a deal:

“Here’s what I believe, here’s what I learned from Jerry (West) and everybody that’s been in management is that if you go into any kind of a transaction and try to make a deal with a team it’s got to be fair. When it’s a fair deal and I really think it’s something that is going to help both teams, I will pay a nickel more. My daddy always told me ‘pay a nickel more,’ even though we didn’t have a nickel, ‘pay a nickel more for whatever it is you need.’ And I have an owner (Micky Arison) that will pay more than a nickel more. He’s got about 107 cruise ships out there.”

On what Magic will find out about being the Lakers’ president (and a dig involving Lonzo Ball):

“The one thing is he’s going to find out because he’s been away from the competition for so long. … When I went from coaching to the front office my first three months I was actually in fits because I had lost control. You lose control of the team and the game because you’re just selecting players. One thing you don’t want to do as the president is second guess your coach too much, don’t go into the locker room, don’t hang around too much.

“He was the all-time leader of all leaders on the Lakers. He’s going to sit up there in that box of his and when things aren’t going good the first year he’s going to want to go down there and be Lonzo Ball’s mentor. …

“I have a great owner in Micky Arison; his son Nick, who’s the CEO; (GM) Andy Elisburg, (VP player personnel) Chet Kammerer; (assistant GM) Adam Simon. Everybody that I have come in to the Heat with the last 22 years are with me so we’ve all been there together and Erik Spoelstra, our head coach is one of the great young sort of contemporary millennial coaches.”

Riley correcting Magic after Magic said the Cavaliers-Warriors rivalry is similar to the Lakers-Celtics in the 1980s:

“There’s a coaches standpoint and there’s a players standpoint. There’s no hatred in this series. When the Lakers and the Celtics where banging heads back in the ‘80s and we played each other we had to carry the albatross of the Lakers losing six times in the ‘60s to the Celtics. And so there was a lot of bitterness carried and had really built up. By the time we played in 1984, Earvin had won a title in 1980. Larry Bird had won his in ‘81. … Now Celtics-Lakers in ’84, we lose in a seven-game series. In ‘86 it was knock down. Kurt Rambis clothes lined. We beat them. There was great respect. I used to have this phrase all the time that you need to go out and play them tonight by showing them no respect but showing them great respect. There was really a dislike there and to this day it still sort of hangs around even when I see Larry and Danny (Ainge). Unless something happens in the Cleveland Golden State series it’s just going to be a game.”

On the Warriors-Cavaliers Final:

“I don’t want to say this because I don’t want to be disrespectful to any of the players because they are all stars, but there are two really dynamic off-the-charts players on both teams then there are other players who are great, great, great players and then there’s the casts that come off the bench but also are great players. I see talent, great coaching, great organization, very high IQ players that have poise and are mature and all of these things are going on in very chaotic moments. One play or two plays can change the course of a game or the course of a series.”

On what Cleveland has to do now trailing 2-0 and equating it to his first two titles in Miami:

“They got to win four out of five. Now people say that’s impossible but you can go back in the history of the NBA, just with us. In 2006 when we won the title with Shaquille (O’Neal) we lost the first two games in Dallas badly, we won four in a row. (Kevin Durant) beat us in OKC in the first game (in 2012), we won four in a row. Things can happen. I wasn’t very good at this but I would try to get them to forget bad games very quickly. So my advice would be forget the quick trip to the Bay Area, it’s over. It wasn’t a nightmare it was an experience and when you get home you just need to win two games and things can change quickly.”

On comparing Magic to LeBron James:

“LeBron is the closest thing to Earvin we have ever seen because of his size, his speed, his acceleration, his vision, everything that he can do. (Magic) could have scored 30 points a game if he wanted to. He didn’t have to score because of Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and James (Worthy) and everybody else we had. But he is a winner, LeBron is a winner. The way that LeBron plays the game now, coast-to-coast, handles the ball, runs the offense, it’s just like Earvin. … Same mold, same DNA.”

On why Magic would defeat LeBron one-on-one:

“Because he would never call a foul and LeBron would respect him as an elder he’d win.”

Finally, the highlight of the night. Watch here as Magic and Riley dance to George Benson’s Love X Love and sing Jeffery Osborne’s You Should Be Mine.

 

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UPDATE: Pat Riley on competing against Larry Bird: ‘We wanted to inflict pain on them, they wanted to do the same to us’

 

 

Pat Riley chats with Larry Bird prior to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony in Springfield, Mass. in 2012. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Pat Riley and Larry Bird have competed for nearly four decades in different roles, but one thing remained constant whether one was a player or both were a coach or executive.

“We’ve had a long time and in some, way, shape or form we have always been able to keep it at the level of pure competition,” Riley told The Palm Beach Post today.

“I have nothing but the utmost respect for him from that standpoint.”

Bird’s decision last week to step down as the Pacers’ president of basketball operations likely ends a competition that started nearly 40 years ago and followed each of these Hall of Famers through different stages of their careers.

For those keeping score: Teams in which Riley and Bird have held jobs as a player (Bird) or coach or executives (both) have met 141 times with Riley holding an 81-60 edge.

This includes Bird’s time as a player in Boston, executive in Boston and Indiana and three years as a coach in Indiana.

For Riley, this covers his time as a coach with the Lakers, Knicks and Heat and executive with the Heat.

The relationship, though, got off to a rocky start – like so many in sports when two teams are measured by what they do against each other.

But over the years it turned to respect and then admiration. Although Riley and Bird never will be friends the way Magic Johnson and Bird have become, they are two of the greatest competitors in the history of all sports.

“There’s a huge difference in the mentality today of players than there was back then,” Riley said of grudge matches between his Lakers and Bird’s Celtics in the 1980s.

“If you told the player don’t fraternize with a player on the opposite team, he wouldn’t do it. Today it’s like a lovefest. I know that Larry is off the same mind-set I’m in when you’re sports mortal enemies to beat one another. But there really is a genuine deep respect that I have for him and he had for Magic, we had for each other. The rivalry went far beyond that. We wanted to win, we wanted to beat them. We wanted to inflict pain on them and they wanted to do the same to us. That’s just the way it was.”

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At 60, Bird is 12 years younger than Riley, but has reached that point where he’ll take a reduced role in the organization as a scout and adviser as he slides into retirement.

“I felt it was time to step away in a full-time capacity,” Bird said Monday. “This has nothing to do with my health or our team. I’m 60 years old and I want to do other things away from basketball.”

The competition between Riley and Bird started Dec. 28, 1979, Bird’s rookie season with the Celtics and Riley’s first year on the Lakers bench as an assistant coach. The Lakers won that game 128-105 and Bird scored 16 points.

A true rivalry was being born.

“When Auerbach drafted him and then pulled off the trade to get (Kevin) McHale and (Robert) Parish at the same time, it started the rivalry of all rivalries,” Riley said about the Celtics former coach and president, the late Red Auerbach.

Riley would move over to head coach two years later, turning the Lakers into “Showtime.” The Celtics were the antithesis of the Lakers on the East Coast, dominating with a style that some said bordered on thuggery. The two would become hated rivals, meeting three times in the Finals, with the Celtics winning that physical series in 1984 and the Lakers breaking through in 1985 and winning again in 1987.

Riley got the better of Bird while coach of the Lakers with those two titles and winning 22-of-38 games overall.

Riley said the hard-nosed, competitive feelings started to thaw when Bird retired as a player in 1992.

“We would see each other, especially when he was a coach at coach’s meetings,” Riley said, adding he and Bird talk on the phone “occasionally, very occasionally.”

The rivalry took on another dimension in 1997 when Bird was named coach of the Pacers. Riley was starting his third season in Miami. They met 12 times as opposing coaches, Bird winning seven. Bird coached just three seasons but captured one Coach of the Year award and took the Pacers to the 2000 Finals, losing to the Lakers.

In 2003, Bird moved into the Pacers’ front office and Riley shed his title of coach, remaining as president only. Riley, though, did return as head coach for two-plus years starting early in the 2005 season.

The two had a long run of pitting teams against one another that they built. And although it come out nearly even during the regular season – Bird 33, Riley 32 – the Heat and  Riley eliminated the Pacers in the postseason with Bird in charge in 2012 and 2014, both during the Heat’s Big Three era.

“Both of us knew that both teams would always be very competitive,” Riley said. “And it wasn’t because of Larry and myself. Larry was playing against Magic back in the ’80s. When we were coaching against each other, when he took his team to the Finals. It was different but it was the same kind of thing in that he knew my teams were going to be ready and I knew his teams were going to be ready. I knew what to expect from him and he knew what to expect from me.

“But once you move off the playing court, off of the bench, it’s a different kind of competition from GMs. GMs don’t look at it that way the way players do, the way coaches do. I think he’s done a great job, especially in the years against the Big Three. Those were the best teams he put together. They just couldn’t beat our team.”

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Pat Riley, Larry Bird have been fierce competitors for nearly 40 years

“I think what Boston did was the equivalent of two gang warlords meeting the night before a rumble and deciding the weapons. They both say bare fists and one them shows up with zip guns. … What they did is they came into our territory, a neutral zone out there and decided to use zip guns. Weapons that we didn’t plan on because this is a game of basketball.” – Pat Riley, from The Lives of Riley, talking about the 1984 Finals between the Celtics and Lakers.

 

Pat Riley chats with Larry Bird prior to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony at Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass., in 2012. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

 

The relationship between Pat Riley and Larry Bird got off to a rocky start. … like so many in sports when two teams are measured by what they do against each other.

But over the years it turned to respect and admiration for the job each has done wearing several hats. Although Riley and Bird never will be friends the way Magic Johnson and Bird have become, they are two of the greatest competitors in the history of all sports.

Bird’s decision last week to step down as the Pacers president of basketball operations likely ends a competition that started nearly 40 years ago and followed each of these Hall of Famers through different stages of their careers. And although Bird stepped away in 2012 but returned a year later in the same position, this does not feel like he has the desire ever to  return to a prominent role in the organization.

For those keeping score: Teams in which Riley and Bird have held jobs have met 141 times with Riley holding an 81-60 edge.

This includes Bird’s time as a player in Boston, executive in Boston and Indiana and three years as a coach in Indiana.

For Riley, this covers his time as a coach with the Lakers, Knicks and Heat and executive with the Heat.

Bird, 60, apparently has reached that point where he prefers to take a reduced role (scout, adviser) and slide into retirement sooner than the 72-year-old Riley.

“I felt it was time to step away in a full-time capacity,” Bird said Monday. “This has nothing to do with my health or our team. I’m 60 years old and I want to do other things away from basketball.”

The competition started Dec. 28, 1979, Bird’s rookie season with the Celtics and Riley’s first year on the Lakers bench as an assistant coach. The Lakers won that game 128-105 and Bird scored 16 points.

A true rivalry was born.

Pat Riley’s Lakers defeated Larry Bird’s Celtics in the 1985, 87 Finals

Riley would move over to head coach two years later, turning the Lakers into “Showtime.” The Celtics were the antithesis of the Lakers on the East Coast, dominating with a style that some said bordered on thuggery. The styles clashed and the two teams would become hated rivals, meeting three times in the Finals with the Celtics winning that physical series in 1984 and the Lakers breaking through in 1985 and winning again in 1987.

Riley later called it the greatest rivalry in basketball history.

“They were right in the midst of their dynastic run as a team. … as the Lakers were, and we were both trying to find that ultimate identity of being the best in the world by basically measuring them as a standard and we as a standard,” he once said.

“It’s really the greatest rivalry in the history of basketball, Celtics-Lakers, and I think it was derived more so in the ’60s. … But every spring, it seemed like it was Lakers-Celtics, so that’s what really planted the seed of what a great rivalry could be about.”

Then, as cooler heads prevailed and he was able to step away from the bad-blood, Riley bestowed the ultimate compliment on Bird.

“If I had to choose a player to take a final shot to win a game I’d choose (Michael) Jordan, but if I could pick one to shoot to save my life I would pick Bird.”

Riley got the better of Bird while coach of the Lakers with those two titles and winning 22-of-38 overall. When Riley took over the Knicks and then moved onto the Heat in 1995, Bird was in the Celtics’ front office as a special assistant.

The rivalry took on another dimension in 1997 when Bird was named coach of the Pacers. Riley was starting his third season in Miami and Bird barely got the better of Riley during their three years on opposite benches, going 7-5 head-to-head against Riley and the Heat. Bird coached just three seasons but captured one Coach of the Year award and took the Pacers to the 2000 Finals, losing to the Lakers.

In 2003, Bird moved into the Pacers’ front office and Riley shed his title of coach remaining as president only. Riley, though, did return as head coach for two-plus years starting early in the 2005 season.

The two had a long run of pitting teams against one another that they built. And although it come out nearly even during the regular season – Bird 33, Riley 32 – the Heat and  Riley eliminated the Pacers in the postseason with Bird in charge in 2012 and 2014, both during the Heat’s Big Three era.

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