Even though Pat Riley lost the wager, his hair won the war. As payback for suffering free-throw-shooting defeat at the hands of NBC’s Bob Costas, broadcasting partner Riley had agreed to abandon his famous slicked-down locks in favor of the dry-look style of his opponent. And on national television, no less — during halftime of game two of the NBA finals on June 5.
So what happened? After all those years of gel, Riley’s hair just wouldn’t convert. Even after Costas reached over and tousled it a bit, the old style was still standing pat. And to think that Costas had predicted that a redone Riley would ”look like Ted Koppel or the president of the Hair Club for Men.”
It was a comical conclusion to a season-long battle of shots on NBC’s NBA Showtime, the basketball program that featured lively chatter between Costas and Riley. The competition began innocently enough. ”It was a really spontaneous thing that happened on our first broadcast,” Costas says. ”The basket was there and part of my thinking was, with it being Pat’s first year, this would make him comfortable, personalize him a little.” And so, at the end of most Showtimes, Riley (who played in the NBA for nine seasons) and Costas (a self-described ”good shooter”) would each take a shot. The competition ended in a tie, and a sudden-death shoot-out was broadcast during halftime of game one of the finals. NBC even generated computer images of how Costas and Riley would look in swapped hairstyles (above). Costas said his looked like ”the result of a bizarre genetic experiment.” (Good thing he won.)
Riley won’t be around for a rematch next season; he’ll be coaching the New York Knicks. The shooting contest may be retired as well; Costas doesn’t foresee a similar competition for next year’s Showtime. After all, he’s now master of the free-throw universe. Just ask him. ”I’ll be the Knicks’ honorary free-throw coach,” he says. ”I think that goes without saying.”