Pat Riley was a stickler for rules, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar asked him to bend one in 1985. After losing to the Boston Celtics in the 1984 NBA Finals, the former Los Angeles Lakers coach implemented a no-friends policy. Members of the Lakers couldn’t hang out with players of other teams. Riley wanted his team to be all business.
The coach also had another rule regarding the team bus. Abdul-Jabbar asked Riley if he could make one exception before Game 2 of the 1985 NBA Finals. He obliged, and it may have sparked the Lakers to their championship.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers needed to bounce back after losing to the Celtics in the 1984 NBA Finals
Although the Celtics finished with the NBA’s best record in the 1983-84 season, the Lakers gained quick control of the 1984 NBA Finals by winning Game 1, 115-109. They also had the upper hand in the second game of the series but let it slip away.
With his team holding a 113-111 lead with 18 seconds left, James Worthy lofted a lazy pass intended for Byron Scott that was picked off by Celtics guard Gerald Henderson. Henderson leaped, tapped the ball toward the basket, recovered it, and laid it in to tie the game with 13 ticks left. Boston went on to win in overtime to tie the series.
In Game 3, the first in LA, the Lakers blew out the Celtics, winning 137-104. After the game, Boston’s Larry Bird blasted his Celtics teammates for their play. According to NBA.com, Bird later said had Henderson not stolen that ball, the Celtics would’ve been swept.
Instead, the Celtics bounced back with a gutsy Game 4 win on the road to even the series. After splitting the next two games — each winning at home — Boston won 111-102 in Game 7 for its second title in four years.
The teams met again in the 1985 NBA Finals, and Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers were on a mission to respond after the ’84 collapse.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar asked Pat Riley to make an exception to one of his rules
Los Angeles was hungry after letting one slip away in 1984. The Lakers and the Celtics met up again in the 1985 NBA Finals, and revenge was on the mind of many Lakers players. Playing on the road in Game 1, they were embarrassed, dropping a 148-114 decision.
Abdul-Jabbar struggled in the opener, scoring 12 points and pulling down just three rebounds. “It was just one of those inexplicable games,” Riley said, according to Sports Illustrated in 2015. “It went the wrong way very, very quickly. We looked heavy and tired. We just didn’t have it.”
Before Game 2, Abdul-Jabbar asked Riley if he could bend a rule. The Lakers captain asked if his father could ride the bus to the Garden. Riley agreed to let the man known as Big Al on the bus, although his decision left Lakers star Magic Johnson stunned.
“It made an impression on all of us,” Magic recalled in 2015. “Pat was a stickler for rules — no outsiders on the bus — and it sent a powerful message when he made that exception. It was all about family.”
Abdul-Jabbar had the game of his life in a series-changing Game 2 victory
In Game 2 at the Garden, the Lakers were a completely different team. They jumped out to a 21-6 lead and went back to the hotel with a 109-102 victory that tied the series. Abdul-Jabbar more than made up for his Game 1 struggles with a 30-point, 17-rebound effort. He threw in eight assists and three blocks for good measure.
“All things considered, it was one of the greatest games Kareem ever played,” Riley said.
The Lakers center didn’t stop there. Abdul-Jabbar again dominated in a series-clinching Game 6 on the road, leading the way with 29 points. He was the key to the series, according to both Riley and Bird.
“We had a number of players who could guard Bird in (Michael) Cooper, Worthy, Scott and Magic,” said Riley, “while they didn’t have anybody who could play Kareem. We took motivation from the year before, and we were very confident going into that game.”
“What I remember most about that game was Kareem hitting this skyhook along the baseline from about 14 feet out,” said Bird. “That did it. People forget that Kareem could pass out of the post as well as score. He was the difference-maker in the series.”
The Lakers rode Abdul-Jabbar and the motivation they had from having lost in 1984, all while Big Al rode the bus and shook things up for LA.