I never saw them take a night off. Because of the grinding travel schedule, and maybe because of extracurricular activities that came to light after Johnson's HIV diagnosis, they weren't always sharp in every game. But I never thought it was because of a lack of effort.
After The Times' Steve Springer, covering for the Orange County Register at the time, beat McAdoo in table tennis one night in Richfield, Ohio, McAdoo bought a Ping-Pong table for the game room in his apartment complex in West L.A. and practiced all summer for a rematch.
McAdoo was derided in Boston for not playing the Celtic way, but he was a determined Laker, never backing down from anything. He was so convinced that he was the best player on the team in every sport, from bowling to yachting, that Johnson once said, "Anything you do, Doo do better."
Phil Jackson got the better of Riley when they were rival coaches in the Eastern Conference. But Jackson's Chicago Bulls had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and Riley's New York Knicks had Patrick Ewing and John Starks. I'd like to see Riley against Jackson in a fair fight.
To Riley's credit, even after he was promoted from assistant to head coach 12 games into the 1981-82 season, he defended Westhead. Riley appreciated Westhead's offense, believing the Lakers needed to learn it in case they found themselves mired in a half-court game, as they had the season before in losing a first-round playoff series against Houston.
Riley installed the offense before the playoffs in '82, but in bits and pieces instead of all at once so that the players hardly cared or even noticed.
Referring to the short time Riley had spent as a sidekick to Chick Hearn, Larry Brown said in '82 that coaches should be embarrassed because "a broadcaster" had won the title.
That was as unfair as any comment I've ever heard. I'm not sure when Riley ever slept. When he wasn't watching films after games, he was on the phone with his psychologist-wife, Chris, talking about his relationship with his players. They had a lot to talk about.
Nixon was the most tempestuous player and frequently challenged Riley. I asked Riley once why he put up with it.
"Because if I break him in the locker room, I might break him on the court," Riley said. "I don't want to do that."
Nixon is still dogged. I saw him a couple of years ago at the Kentucky Derby and, 17 years after the fact, he asked me why I'd written that the Lakers had done the right thing in trading him for Byron Scott in 1983.
Because Nixon's best position was point guard, where the Lakers had Johnson, and because his knees were almost shot. Scott was a young off-guard. But I conceded that the Lakers probably wouldn't have lost in the 1984 Finals against Boston if Nixon had been there with his experience and fire. Then again, maybe they wouldn't have won in '85 if not for Scott's outside shooting.
If the Rileys' phone bills were exorbitant, no doubt it was because they spent so much time discussing Cooper.
He didn't mind coming off the bench, as long as he knew he was going to get his minutes. Once, when he didn't during the first half of a game in Detroit, he told Springer and me that he wanted to talk to us immediately after the game.
But by the time we got to his locker, the trainer, Jack Curran, had already talked him off the ledge.
"I'm just ... hey, Jack, what's that word you used?" Cooper said, yelling across the room to Curran.
"Paranoid," Curran said.
"Yeah," Cooper said, "paranoid."
He remains the only Laker ever voted defensive player of the year. The only shooting guard or small forward he couldn't guard was Walter Davis.
After a playoff game once in Phoenix, Riley congratulated Cooper on the game he'd had against Davis.
"But Pat," I said, "you had Nixon on Davis most of the game."
"Yeah," Riley said, winking, "but Coop doesn't know that."
Levin used to carry a screw with him. When Cooper would start on one of his rants, Levin would dig into his pocket, pull out the screw and say, "Coop, here's your loose screw."
One thing that both L.A. Laker dynasties had going for them--besides Hearn--was that Jerry West built them. Now that he's gone to Memphis, you have to wonder if there will be a Mitch Kupchak dynasty.
If there isn't, it won't be because Kupchak is less committed to winning. I'll never forget the '85 Finals, when Kupchak, by then a slow and earthbound but gritty reserve power forward, was knocking Celtics all over the parquet floor.
"Mitch, what are you doing?" an exasperated Kevin McHale asked him at one point in a game in Boston.
Bird was disgusted by the question because the answer was so obvious to him.
"He's playing for the championship," Bird said.