Commentary

Jackson can't unseat Riley

No matter what Phil Jackson does, Pat Riley will still be the greatest Lakers coach

Updated: February 5, 2010, 4:13 PM ET
By Arash Markazi | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Pat RileyAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images LOS ANGELES - 1989: Head Coach Pat Riley of the Los Angeles Lakers draws up a play during a timeout for Magic Johnson #32 and Kareem Abdul Jabbar #33 during an NBA game at the Forum.
Another Lakers game, and another meaningless team record toppled in the process.

Oh, I'm sorry; did I say that out loud? Was I supposed to fall in line with the thousands of others who have come out of the woodwork and pretended they ever cared about club records and regular-season milestones?

On Wednesday, Phil Jackson passed Pat Riley for most regular-season victories in franchise history. Yes, that's right: A coach famous for winning ten championships was honored for passing another coach famous for winning five championships in regular-season wins. I guess postseason wins aren't that important when you're looking for things to celebrate these days.

Since when did a franchise that only hangs up banners for world championships and only retires jerseys of Hall of Famers start making a big deal about milestones that, quite frankly, few of their fans were familiar with before this season?

If you asked Lakers fans who the all-time leading scorer in franchise history was before this year they would probably have rattled off five names before getting to Jerry West. The only thing Lakers fans care about is their team's and their players' place in NBA history, not in their own team's history.

Before the Lakers-Bobcats game, Jerry West presented Kobe Bryant with a game ball during a ceremony celebrating Bryant becoming the all-time leading scorer in team history, while Tina Turner's "Simply the Best" played. Did I mention the scoring record was also for regular-season points only? Yeah, so all those points they both scored in the NBA Finals were apparently meaningless.

In case you're wondering, if you included Lakers postseason games, Jackson's 631-304 mark still trails Riley's 635-241 record, and Bryant's 29,589 points still trail West's 29,649.

Honestly, how much value can you put in an all-time Lakers list that places Magic Johnson fifth and has James Worthy sitting in front of Shaquille O'Neal?

Since we've established that franchise records are worthless, we can also hopefully throw out any notion that just because Jackson has passed Riley on the list for most regular-season wins that he has somehow also passed Riley as the best coach in franchise history.

The title of best player in franchise history will always belong to Magic, and the title of best coach will always belong to Riley. Regardless of statistics, numbers or assorted manufactured factors that don't mean anything to the eyes and ears of fans that lived through the magical "Showtime" era in the 1980s.

Despite winning four championships with the Lakers -- the same number Riley won with the team -- Jackson will always be known as the coach of the Michael Jordan-led Bulls first and the coach of the Lakers second. In the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., where they have displays honoring the greatest franchises in NBA history, Pat Riley and John Kundla, who won four NBA titles with the Minneapolis Lakers, are featured in the Lakers display, while Jackson is featured in the Bulls display. That's where they reside in the minds of most basketball fans as well.

When you think of the Lakers, you will always think of Riley's slicked-back hair and tailor-made suits over Jackson's soul patch and raised chair. It's nothing against Jackson, who will go down as the greatest coach in NBA history, but if you're putting together an all-time Lakers team, there's only one man who should be roaming the sidelines, and it's Riley.

Riley personified the "Showtime" era as much as Magic did, and his place in Lakers lore will never change. He became synonymous with the success of the franchise the same way Michael Douglas' character in "Wall Street" embodied the greed during the decade of decadence. During a time when we far too often rely on statistics and label the last best thing that happened as the greatest, the "Showtime" era in Los Angeles still resonates as strongly today as it did 30 years ago.

Bryant may constantly be compared to Jordan and may have his sights set on becoming the all-time leading scorer one day, but it might be impossible for him to ever supplant Magic as the most popular player in team history. The same is true for Jackson when considering his place in Lakers history. No matter how many games he wins, it will be hard for him to ever replace Riley in the hearts of Lakers fans that will always have a softer spot for "Coach Slick" and "Mr. GQ" than for the "Zen Master."

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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