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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Asked Pat Riley to Make an Exception to a Rule, and It May Have Sparked the Lakers to Their ’85 Title

This is the story of how Pat Riley said no to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the end of the 1982-1983 season. While Riley was not re-signing the Lakers’ star, he did want him to be apart of the team for the upcoming off-season, and he told him this. After the season, Riley did not ask if Kareem wanted to be apart of the team, but Kareem did ask to be apart of the team, and he wanted to know what the rules were that the Lakers were following.

In the summer of 1984, arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—asked Pat Riley, the man who coached the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles in the 1980s, to make an exception to a rule.

After the Lakers lost in the Finals in both 1980 and 1981, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was determined to bring a championship to Los Angeles. In 1984, Kareem asked Pat Riley to make an exception to a rule: Due to his huge contract and desire to win a championship, Kareem could be traded to another team if their offer was big enough. So, what did Kareem get? The Lakers made a blockbuster trade with the Kings, sending Magic Johnson and Vinnie Johnson to Los Angeles for Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and two first-round picks.

Pat Riley was a rule-follower, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar urged him to break one in 1985. After losing in the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics in 1984, the former Los Angeles Lakers coach instituted a no-friends policy. The Lakers were not allowed to hang out with players from other clubs. Riley wants his staff to be serious about their work.

Another restriction that the coach had was about the team bus. Before Game 2 of the 1985 NBA Finals, Abdul-Jabbar asked Riley if he could make one exception. He complied, and that may have been the catalyst for the Lakers’ victory.

After losing in the 1984 NBA Finals to the Celtics, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers sought to bounce back.


Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar-1985-1-1024x808 On May 30, 1985, during Game 2 of the 1985 NBA Finals at the Boston Garden, Los Angeles Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is defended by the Celtics’ Robert Parish and Ray Williams, far left. | Getty Images/Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe

Despite the fact that the Celtics had the best record in the NBA in 1983-84, the Lakers took charge of the 1984 NBA Finals right away, winning Game 1 115-109. In the second game of the series, they too held the upper hand but let it slip away.

With 18 seconds remaining and his team leading 113-111, James Worthy lofted a poor ball meant for Byron Scott that was intercepted by Celtics player Gerald Henderson. With 13 ticks remaining, Henderson leapt, tapped the ball toward the hoop, retrieved it, and lay it in to tie the game. Boston went on to tie the series in overtime.

The Lakers blasted away the Celtics in Game 3, their first in Los Angeles, winning 137-104. Larry Bird, of the Boston Celtics, chastised his teammates after the game. According to, Bird subsequently said that the Celtics would have been swept if Henderson had not grabbed the ball.

Instead, the Celtics evened the series with a gritty Game 4 victory on the road. Following a 2-2 tie in the following two games, with each team winning at home, Boston won Game 7 111-102 for their second championship in four years.

In the 1985 NBA Finals, the clubs faced again, and Jabbar and the Lakers were out to avenge their 1984 defeat.

Pat Riley was requested by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to make an exception to one of his rules.

After letting one get away in 1984, the Lakers were eager for revenge. In the 1985 NBA Finals, the Lakers and Celtics clashed again, and many Lakers players were out for vengeance. Los Angeles was humiliated in Game 1 of the series, losing 148-114 on the road.

In the first game, Abdul-Jabbar only scored 12 points and grabbed three rebounds. Riley told Sports Illustrated in 2015, “It was simply one of those unexplainable games.” “It soon went in the wrong direction. We looked sluggish and exhausted. It was simply that we didn’t have it.”

Before the second game, Abdul-Jabbar asked Riley if he could make an exception to a rule. The Lakers captain inquired whether his father could take the Garden bus. Riley decided to allow Big Al on the bus, despite the fact that his choice shocked Lakers star Magic Johnson.

In 2015, Magic said, “It left an impact on all of us.” “Pat was a stickler for regulations — no strangers on the bus — and when he made that exception, it sent a strong message. It had everything to do with family.”

In a series-clinching Game 2 win, Abdul-Jabbar had the game of his life.

The Lakers were a totally different squad in Game 2 at the Garden. They took a 21-6 advantage and returned to the hotel with a 109-102 win, tying the series. With a 30-point, 17-rebound performance, Abdul-Jabbar more than made up for his Game 1 troubles. For good measure, he tossed in eight assists and three blocks.

Riley remarked, “All things considered, that was one of Kareem’s best games ever.”

The Lakers’ center did not rest on his laurels. In a series-clinching Game 6 on the road, Abdul-Jabbar dominated once again. He scored 29 points to lead the Lakers. According to Riley and Bird, he was crucial to the series’ success.

“We had a lot of guys in (Michael) Cooper, Worthy, Scott, and Magic who could defend Bird, but they didn’t have anybody who could play Kareem,” Riley recalls. We used last year’s inspiration and went into the game with a lot of confidence.”

“What I remember most about that game is Kareem hitting this 14-foot skyhook down the baseline,” Bird recalled. “That was the last straw. People forget that Kareem can both score and pass out of the post. In the series, he was the game-changer.”

While Big Al rode the bus and changed things up for LA, the Lakers rode Abdul-Jabbar and the drive they had from losing in 1984.

After a midseason trade with the Lakers in 1987, Larry Bird was displeased with the Spurs.

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