Squint and you might mistake the legendary tough practices of Byron Scott for those of his mentor. For it was nearly thirty years ago that Pat Riley’s grueling endless practices were part of the Riley mystique. To see Byron now, to observe the coach is to witness a quiet facsimile of Pat Riley the teacher: impeccably dressed, arms briskly folded, eyes shooting bullets. Both men are workaholics driven by competitiveness and perfectionism, demanding of their players what they wring out of themselves: intellect and passion.
No one disputes Pat Riley’s brilliance. He took a team in 1981 that was 7-4. They won 50 more games and the NBA title. He won another three titles after that. Then in New York he took a team without much grace and fluidity and in four years he won 68% of the 300+ games he coached. In Miami he won 3 NBA titles as a coach and general manager.
Much of Riley’s success as a leader can be traced to his natural gift in battle ethics and leading men as a group. His motivational skills are renowned; he simply knows how to push the right buttons to get players to perform. Part salesman, part priest, part brother and friend, Riley can bring out the best in a player, more than what they thought they ever had. He once said, “the 10 Commandments are not a suggestion”, and that was pretty much how Riley ruled. He had commandments he expected his players to follow and his system was not a democracy.
But Byron Scott is not an autocrat, not entirely. He stressed the opposite during his introductory press conference. He boldly pronounced he did not know enough on his own to not listen to suggestions. And yet, like Riley, Byron operates under a system of control. No one would be surprised if the Commandments of Riley become the rules of Byron.
- You have no choice about how you lose but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare.
- Don’t let other people tell you what you want
- There are only 2 options regarding competition. You’re either in or out. There is no such thing as in between.
- There’s no such thing as coulda, shoulda or woulda. If you shoulda and coulda you woulda done it.
- There can only be one state of mind as you approach any profound test; total concentration, a spirit of togetherness and strength.
- When you’re playing against a stacked deck compete even harder.
- Discipline is not a dirty word
- Excellence is the gradual result of always trying to be better.
- Each warrior wants to leave the mark of his will, his signature on important acts he touches.
- People who create 20% of the results will begin believing they deserve 80% of the reward.
No matter how much Byron Scott borrows his coaching style from Pat Riley, including Riley’s words of wisdom, Byron has to remember the full story. The beginning and middle were perfect but at the end it all fell off the rails as Riley tried to control everything (including the Laker Girls). The players felt disenfranchised from the Showtime era. Magic Johnson was exhausted by it all. “He tried to control everything and he got away from what he was there to do”, Magic admitted.
What Byron Scott is “here to do” is to create cohesion among 12 players most think aren’t going to do much of anything this upcoming season. He has young players and veteran players and stars and used to be stars and discarded players and no longer injured players all playing in a city with cynical expectations about their possibilities. Separate the chatter from the romance: Byron is here to win games.
After leaving the Lakers in 1993 Byron went to Indiana. Larry Brown was the coach, Reggie Miller was in his sixth year. Byron began planting the seeds of his coaching career in the Hoosier state’s vast garden. Larry Brown noticed. “He really cared about the game and he knew how to teach. If you have these things you can be a good coach.”
But Pat Riley was not a good coach at the end when it all unraveled. It was 1990, game 4, against the Phoenix Suns, in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. The season had been grueling. Riley had lost his player’s respect and he knew it which made him more controlling which made the players angrier and divided. The Lakers were trailing 2-1 when Riley the master of the 10 Commandments, the master of the motivational speeches, went from one player to the next and ripped them to shreds. He blamed them for everything and that pretty much was that. According to the book Showtime by Jeff Pearlman, “Game 4 had been a mess. (Byron) Scott who demanded more shots missed four early on and Riley used a time-out to specifically humiliate him.” The Lakers played one more game before they were done and so was Riley the architect. He was now Riley the prison guard. And Riley the former Laker coach.
And so that leaves Byron Scott with a certain inheritance. He has his teacher’s blessing and he is aware of his master’s curses. Just as Pat Riley and Byron Scott are the same sort of person they are opposite too. Riley won his Coach of the Year when his best players despised him. Byron Scott won his Coach of the Year when his best players loved him. Coaching then is all about semantics, about the small things.
This is Byron’s difficult challenge-to extract the greatness of Pat Riley without initiating the fatigue of Pat Riley. It’s enough to keep Byron up at night. That and his vow that the Lakers will play defense. Pat Riley said that same thing too.