Coach turned cohost -- Pat Riley is the new sportcaster for ''NBA Showtime''

Pat Riley is one guy who won’t be needing to upgrade his wardrobe for TV. As the host of NBA Showtime, NBC’s new basketball pregame show, the sartorially splendid former L.A. Lakers coach teams with sportscaster Bob Costas for a half hour of news, features, interviews, and analysis.

This is NBC’s rookie year of NBA coverage, and Showtime is the first season-long NBA pregame show. Riley, the NBA’s winningest coach over the past nine years, signed on after last season. He chose the role of studio host rather than on-court analyst because, he says, ”I wanted to distance myself, to get at arm’s length and become a little more objective.” But even when he’s announcing, Riley’s high-powered emotions surface in a refreshingly candid way: On a recent segment of the show, USA Today basketball columnist Peter Vecsey went through a list of coaches whose jobs seemed to be in trouble. Riley quickly countered with ”Leave ’em alone, leave those coaches alone — go one level up,” meaning, take a look at the general managers running the clubs.

At halftime, Riley focuses on key plays and talks strategy. ”It gets me back to being a coach,” he says. ”The ultimate truth machine is videotape, and for a couple of plays it takes the audience to the X and O part of basketball.”

The former coach calls Costas his ”television role model,” and the two have begun a friendly on-air basket-shooting contest. The stakes are expected to be high: Riley will propose that the loser wear his hair in the winner’s style during the NBA finals. During their first match, Riley, who seemed a bit nervous sitting before a camera, was a natural when he turned to face the hoop and tossed in a one-handed swish. As for the blow-dried Costas, let’s just say he’d do well to stock up on some styling gel.