Poor Byron Scott. Not only did his team get pummeled in the NBA championship series, but now the Nets coach again finds himself on the short end of a three-peat situation. Well, better make that a Three-Peat(r) situation.

The story of “three-peat” is an odd one. And it proves that although athletes get tagged as greedy all the time, coaches aren’t immune to that particular deadly sin, either. Phil Jackson may have just coached the Lakers to a third consecutive championship, but it’s Pat Riley, currently coaching the Miami Heat, who owns the phrase. In 1988, Riley filed papers with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register “three-peat” under his corporation, Paperon de Paperoni, which he subsequently renamed Riles & Co. At the time, he was coaching the Los Angeles Lakers, in the midst of their glorious Showtime period. The team, led by Magic Johnson and James Worthy, was hoping to win its third consecutive championship, something that hadn’t been accomplished since the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics.

The first trademark related only to the appearance of “three-peat” on T-shirts, hats, and jackets. Riley has since registered three additional trademarks on his catchphrase, specifically covering its use on: nonmetal key chains, plaques, collector plates, mugs, tankards, bumper stickers, decals, paper pennants, paperweights, posters, and trading cards.

Last fall, in an interview to preview the 2001-2002 season, Riley admitted that he didn’t come up with the slogan, which is a play on “repeat.” Riley said he heard it when he was “having dinner with a friend.” That friend, as Riley admitted under subsequent questioning, was Scott, the shooting guard on the Showtime Lakers.

Riley never three-peated with the Lakers. (His 1988-1989 squad was beaten by the Detroit Pistons.) He has won zero championships in subsequent stints coaching the Knicks and the Heat. Yet Riles & Co. reaped some reward from the trademarking of Scott’s wordplay.

By removing the slogan from the public domain, Riles & Co. gets a piece of the action on sales of licensed goods that bear it. So, in effect, he benefited from his teams’ underachievement. Had any of his Knicks or Heat teams stopped Jackson’s Bulls or Lakers, then Riley’s trademarked phrase wouldn’t be getting such play. (One example: Taco Bell announced a promotion last week to “commemorate the Lakers three-peat victory” under which the company would reward $300 and three free chalupas to anybody who got the Taco Bell logo into news footage of the team’s victory parade, which was held on Friday.)

Conflicts of interest aside, the real crime from Riley’s act is the number of copycats he seems to have inspired. A perusal of the Patent and Trademark Office’s database shows that misguided gold diggers have, in the years since Riley’s filing, registered pretty much every variation of “repeat.”

“Four-peat,””Fourpeat,” “IV Peat,” and “4-peat” are taken. So are “Four Peat’s Sake” and “Four Repeat’s Sake.” And “Five-Peat,” “5 Peat,” and “V Peat.”

The line between clever and stupid got straddled by whoever registered “two-peat” and “2 Peat.”

There’s no straddling with the registration of “1-peat,” “one-peat,” and “onepeat.” The feds have bad news for anybody who thinks Shaq’s Lakers are never going to lose: “Infini-peat” has already been spoken for.

A greedy soul with misplaced faith in Kurt Warner and the boys threw all his chickens behind “Ram Peat.” Maybe it was a Yankees fan who filed for ownership of “Sweep-Peat” in 1999. Chicagoans who have targeted a market that cares deeply about street cred went for “Mo’ Peat” and “Da Peat.” The Windy City is also responsible for “Bull Peat,” “Dream Peat,” “Free Peat,” and—ugh—”23 Peat.”

Somebody named Marcus K. Ballard has taken what sure seems to be the most elaborate follow-up to Riley. According to government records, Ballard trademarked the following, including all the capital letters, odd spellings, and dubious syntax: “THE EQUATION OF CHAMPIONS WHEN A TEAM WINS A FINAL GAME, IT’S A CHAMPIONSHIP. WHEN A TEAM WINS AGAIN, ITS A CHAMPIONSHIP REPEAT. WHEN A TEAM WINS BACK TO BACK CHAMPIONSHIPS, ITS A 2-PEAT. WHEM A TEAM WINS 6 TIMES, THEY’RE 2-PEAT + REPEAT X 2 CHAMPIONS (2+1) X 2 CHAMPIONS 6 TIME CHAMPIONS.”

For all the phrases that have been spoken for, however, the database does leave at least one opening for realistic/-fatalistic Redskins fans hoping to own a Rileyesque catchphrase for the Dan Snyder era. “No Peat” is, as of press time, still available. —Dave McKenna