"There are only two options regarding commitment; you're either in or you're out. There's no such thing as life in-between."
—Pat Riley, Former Three-Time NBA Coach of the Year
Buying into a program or a coach's philosophy is a quality shared by all successful teams. Each player needs to understand his role, do what is asked of him and perform at max effort.
Some teammates are role players, coming off the bench to execute a specific play or task, while others are workhorses, carrying the load in the trenches and being overshadowed by the play-making stars. However, as long as each individual is fully committed to his or her role and willing to help teammates reach their full athletic potential, the team can thrive throughout the season.
Nobody knew more about being a committed team player than Pat Riley. In the 1970s, as a two-sport athlete [football and basketball] at the University of Kentucky, Riley was viewed as an all-around versatile player.
A highly-regarded prospect, he was selected by the San Diego Rockets in the first round of the 1967 NBA Draft—and as a wide receiver by the Dallas Cowboys in the 11th round of the 1967 NFL Draft. Choosing basketball over football, he spent his first few seasons jumping from team to team, eventually finding himself on the Los Angeles Lakers' bench.
Accepting his spot as a role player, not a starter, Riley helped the Lakers capture the 1972 NBA Championship by keeping starting guard Jerry West in shape, guarding the legendary Laker in hard practices.
Although his nine-year stint in the NBA was not particularly glamorous, Riley understood the value of buying into a program and sacrificing glory for teamwork. Later, as an NBA coach, he preached this same gospel to his players, which helped him win six NBA Championships and three NBA Coach of the Year awards.
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