It wasn’t as much as a no-friends policy as it was a “no friends who play basketball” policy. In the end, Pat Riley was able to do what he always does: turn an opponent’s mistake into a Lakers victory. The Celtics had a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals and the Lakers were playing without Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Yet, Riley and the Lakers still found a way to win: the Lakers went on a 42-1 run over the last 47.6 seconds of the game.
In the summer of 1984, Pat Riley, then the president of the Los Angeles Lakers, was upset that players were talking to the media after a loss to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. The Lakers had been eliminated from the playoffs after going up 3-0 in the series, and Riley was incensed that the players were feeling better about themselves after a loss. He decided to issue a no-friends policy after a loss to a team, and he believed that ended the talk of his team losing or improving after a loss.
With a three-point lead with under a minute to play, Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley issued a simple directive: Play the Celtics tough, no matter what.
In 1984, the Boston Celtics had no business defeating Pat Riley and his Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Sure, they had the greatest record in the NBA at 62-20, but they dug themselves a hole early in the championship round and had to be “fortunate” to rebound, according to star Larry Bird. Boston would have been facing a sweep in Game 4 if not for a series-changing theft and a mental error by Magic Johnson in Game 2.
The Celtics recovered and won seven games against their opponents. The following year, the Lakers recovered and won the title. Riley altered things up after the disastrous ’84 crash, adopting a no-friends policy. It was all business in Los Angeles.
In the 1984 NBA Finals, the Lakers squandered a great chance.
Of a stoppage during an NBA basketball game in 1985, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Pat Riley speaks with his players. | Getty Images/Focus on Sport
When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominated with a 32-point explosion in the series opener, the Lakers won 115-109 in the Boston Garden, the Celtics lost their homecourt advantage. Until Gerald Henderson rescued the day, Boston was on the verge of losing their first two games at home. The point guard comes up with a late steal on a James Worthy pass to tie the game at 113.
Johnson dribbled out the clock with 13 seconds left, and the Lakers were unable to make a shot attempt, forcing the game into overtime. In the extra session, Boston outscored LA 11-8 to even the series.
In Game 3, the Lakers dominated in their first home game of the series, winning 137-104. Following Boston’s defeat, Bird slammed his teammates, labeling them “sissies.” If Henderson hadn’t snatched the ball in Game 2, Boston would have been down 3-0. According to NBA.com, if it hadn’t been for the theft, the Celtics would have been swept.
Instead, the Celtics took a 3-2 series lead after winning Game 4 on the road and Game 5 at home. In a 119-108 Game 6 victory in Los Angeles, Abdul-Jabbar scored 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while the Lakers had four starters score 20 points or more. With a 111-102 win, Boston won the series.
Following the 1984 series, Pat Riley implemented a no-friends policy.
After the series, the Lakers were humiliated. Game 2 was a watershed moment for the team, and it stayed with the players and coaches for a long time. This sentiment persisted throughout the summer, further fueling the team’s desire to succeed in 1984-85.
Riley gave his squad a new directive over the summer. He wanted the Lakers to be more professional, so he implemented a no-friends policy for opposition players.
In 2015, Johnson told Sports Illustrated, “We used to train out in the summer with DJ,” alluding to Boston guard Dennis Johnson.
“Michael Cooper (Lakers sixth man) and I were close friends with him. However, following that defeat, Riles declared that no more friendly games, no more picking each other up and driving about, would be played. Not even a casual chat will suffice. It was all about the business.”
Riley’s strategy may have succeeded, since the Lakers won a championship in 1985.
Who knows how much that helped, but with Riley’s policy in place, the Lakers were able to win the 1985 NBA Finals. Both Los Angeles and Boston advanced to the final four, but this time the Lakers defeated the Celtics.
To reduce coast-to-coast travel, the NBA altered its Finals format to a 2-3-2 series in 1985. With three consecutive home games, many felt that the club with the poorer record had the upper hand. In any event, the Celtics thrashed the Lakers 148-114 in Game 1 of the series. With a Game 2 victory, LA was able to reclaim homecourt advantage.
The Lakers were up 3-2 in the series and faced the difficult challenge of winning one game on enemy territory. In Game 6, they accomplished exactly that, winning 111-100.
The Lakers were repaid for their losses in 1984. Even if they couldn’t win in front of their home crowd, success was nonetheless wonderful.
“A part of you wants to win a championship in front of your home crowd,” Lakers forward Kurt Rambis said, “but for a competitive athlete, nothing beats slamming it to a team on their home court.” Especially the Celtics.”
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