A decade ago, when Pat Riley was coaching the Showtime Lakers,
he instinctively knew when his team needed a jolt. Riley would
deliver it literally, smashing his fist into a blackboard to
drive home a point. "It was powerful stuff," says one former Los
Angeles player. "And it didn't matter when I found out years
later that he had tested the blackboard first to make sure he
wouldn't hurt himself."
There are many styles of pep talks in the NBA, but the most
memorable mix is a pinch of madness and a dash of fail-safe
method. Riley, the NBA's current master of the genre, says it
has never been his style to set up props, but he adds, "It makes
sense to check the plastic trash can to make sure there's not a
block of cement in it, just in case you might need to kick it."
After leaving the Lakers, Riley altered his approach with the
Knicks, cajoling them with stories of inspiration. One of his
staples was the tale of a horse, Black Gold, that won the
Kentucky Derby in 1924 and the next year broke his leg during a
race but finished it anyway. Like most orators, Riley will reuse
as necessary. Asked how Riley got the Heat ready for the
critical Game 7 against the Knicks in the Eastern Conference
semifinals last season, one Miami player said, "He used that
horse story, you know, the Black Gold one. We'd heard it before."
Knicks forward Charles Oakley says he liked it best when Riley
told his "children's stories." (We think he means parables.)
"There was one, about a frog trying to get over a bridge," says
Oakley. "It sounds dumb, but the way he told it really got us
Cavaliers players report that coach Mike Fratello is "a
screamer" who is not averse to hurling objects--or
insults--around the locker room. "He gets his blood boiling, and
his veins start bulging, and his face gets all red," says one
Cavalier. "A couple of times I was scared he was going to pop a
blood vessel in his head." At game's end, however, Fratello's
demeanor undergoes a radical change. "One time he got on me so
bad at halftime, I figured I was in the doghouse forever," says
another Cav. "But after the game he patted me on the back, like
nothing ever happened."
Sonics coach George Karl's most potent weapon, according to one
of his veterans, is honesty. "He comes into a locker room at
halftime and says, 'You know this team sucks. We should be
killing them,'" says the player.
Sometimes pep talks contain more pep than talk. Consider Magic
coach Chuck Daly, who believes that if a coach speaks too much,
his players tune him out. His approach is to talk in headlines
like PLAY DEFENSE! A member of one of Daly's championship
Pistons teams recalls that during timeouts "Chuck would call us
together, yell, 'Rebound, rebound, rebound!' and that would be
it. The rest of the time, we'd stand around and wait for the
whistle to blow."
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAVID COWLES IN THE LOCKER ROOM, SAY THE CAVS, FRATELLO WILL FUSS AND FUME--AND, AFTERWARD, FORGET [Drawing of Mike Fratello]