NEW YORK — HOW does the National Basketball Association's Coach of the Year motivate his players? According to New York Knicks coach Pat Riley, it's not with money, promises of fame, or the threat of being traded.
No, it's humility.
"We have to learn that in order to achieve greatness," said Riley in a Monitor interview, "you have to almost ... be humble before you get humility. And our guys are beginning to develop that spirit."
Some of that humility showed up Tuesday night after the Knicks beat the Chicago Bulls, 96 to 91, to lead the series 2-0. (Game 3 of the best-of-seven series is tomorrow in Chicago.) Knicks players had nothing but praise for the Bulls' Michael Jordan, even though his shooting has been off. "He's just a great basketball player," said Knicks guard Doc Rivers.
Some multi-season observers of Riley say the coach teaches more than humility: Former Detroit Piston center Bob Lanier says Riley has a way of making the players "feel good about themselves" and to feel good about being Knicks. Cal Ramsey, a former Knicks player, now director of community relations for the team, says Riley uses the same formula that helped him win four championships in Los Angeles: "hard work, conditioning, teamwork, and togetherness."
Many teams have that ethic. But what separates Riley from other coaches, says veteran broadcaster Marv Albert of the Madison Square Garden Network, is that "he has the ability to say the right thing at the right time." A lot of players tune out after a while, Albert says, because they've heard it all before. But not with Riley.
During games, Riley is on his feet nearly as much as the players. He prowls the sidelines, waving instructions and acting like a frustrated point guard. A game official thought he had gotten too far onto the court Tuesday night, and slapped the Knicks with a delay-of-game penalty. Riley joked later that the penalty may have saved a Chicago three-pointer: Bulls guard B.J. Armstrong was wide open.