A Stunned James Worthy Wasn’t Happy With Pat Riley’s Guarantee in 1987: ‘He Knew What He Was Doing’

The Los Angeles Lakers had just defeated the Boston Celtics in six games in the 1987 NBA Finals. Head coach Pat Riley and the players were busy partying during the city parade to celebrate the championship. Lakers forward James Worthy remembered hearing Riley’s speech and recalls being stunned.

During a recent appearance on the Knuckleheads podcast, Worthy thought back at that moment. He said he couldn’t believe what came out of Riley’s mouth but then admitted the coach knew exactly what he was doing.

James Worthy and the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in the ’87 Finals and were looking for the first title repeat since 1969

The Lakers’ James Worthy and the Celtics’ Larry Bird go after a loose ball as the Boston Celtics play the Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Garden on June 4, 1987. | John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.

The Celtics put together one of the best campaigns in NBA history during the 1985-86 season, winning 67 games and losing just once at home. The Lakers were upset by the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals and didn’t get a chance to defend their 1985 championship.

The Lakers faced the Celtics in the 1987 Finals, the third championship matchup between the two franchises in the decade. The Celtics were ready for a repeat, getting the oft-injured Bill Walton back after he was limited to 10 regular-season games due to injury.

Game 4 was the turning point in the series.

The Lakers easily claimed the first two games in LA, winning both by double digits. After Boston cut its series deficit to 2-1 with a 109-103 victory at the Boston Garden in Game 3, the Celtics looked to even the series in Game 4 at home.

The Celtics appeared to be well on their way to doing so. Boston held a 16-point lead in the third quarter and led 103-95 late before turning the ball over three straight times. The Lakers scored the next nine points of the game. LA sealed the 107-106 victory when Magic Johnson hit his “junior, junior, junior skyhook.”

The Lakers went on to win the series in six games.

Worthy now understands Pat Riley’s guarantee

During his appearance on the podcast, Worthy talked about his playing days with the Lakers. He spoke about winning the title over the Celtics in 1987 and how it was nice to spoil their chance of becoming the first team to repeat since the Celtics did it in the ’68 and ’69 seasons.

“The Lakers had already succeeded,” Worthy said. “They won in ’80, when Magic came in, ’82, ’84 (the Celtics beat the Lakers in the 1984 Finals), ’85. So they were used to winning.

“The Celtics were the last team to win back to back, and it hadn’t been done in like 19 or 20 years. When we won in ’87, we were having a parade, like a pre-media thing.

“Pat Riley stood up there. We were all hungover and ready to go and celebrate, go on vacation — at least take a month. When you win a championship, you just get fat. He stood up there and said, ‘Next year, I’m guaranteeing that we’ll do it again.'”

James Worthy

“I’m like, what the f*** did he just say? That puts an automatic target on your back. But we knew we had to do it. We knew it was a big challenge. He knew exactly what he was doing because he wanted to see was the greatness there or not.

“It motivated us. Guys usually take a month and a half off. We took two weeks off, and we was calling each other, let’s meet at the track. We started running the track — 200, 400 — because we knew it was going to be a track race.”

Riley’s speech paid off. The Lakers won their second straight title, outlasting the Detroit Pistons in seven games.

“He wasn’t running out of motivational speeches, but he was getting close,” Worthy said of Riley.