Late in Miami’s first-round playoff series upset Game 4, network cameras gravitated toward Pat Riley after Jimmy Butler’s 22-foot jumper landed like a kick in the Milwaukee Bucks’ collective groin. I was. Riley, the grey-haired Buddha, sat while Butler, who was about to complete his 56-point masterpiece, leaped with all his might. He folds his arms in his suit jacket and tie, smiles without blessing, blinks, but doesn’t move.
No surprise. By this point in his long basketball career, had Riley not yet seen what would compromise his surface of calculated unflappable control?
The clip circulating online was another striking visual to add to the Riley collection. From his championship game at the 1966 National where a black-dominated Texas Western team defeated his all-white Kentucky team to his longtime role as president of the Heat, Riley It has been linked to the history of basketball on a tectonic scale.
Indeed, the 1970s version of Riley is best seen as a role player virtually piggybacking on the great Jerry West while off the court after the Los Angeles Lakers won the only title West ever won as a player. It’s memorable. Since the 1980s, Riley has moved front and center and dressed stylishly.
He has played, coached or served as the team’s CEO in 70 consecutive championship games and series. Most recently, he lost to the Lakers in the 2020 Heat in the NBA Finals. If the man who inspired Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko look in the 1987 film Wall Street was the most respected person, he should be the first nominee. I don’t think so.
Given the generational shift Riley has endured, his run as coach and executive is arguably the most notable. West is a front-office Lakers legend, but had three reluctant seasons as a coach. Phil Jackson has more than twice as many head coach titles as him (11-5), but he only managed a star-filled roster and was an unsuccessful president of the Knicks. . Red Auerbach deserves credit for having coached or formed 16 of his 17 titles for the Celtics, most of them in the early days when players had no freedom of movement. achieved in the league.
Riley inherited the championship cast in Los Angeles, but he led it to dynasty prominence and four titles. It was his words that failed to lead the Knicks to a goal. He turned Miami’s expansion franchise out of nowhere into a three-time favorite.
But we won’t hear much, if any, from Riley himself during the Eastern Conference Semifinals series, the injury-plagued Heat, or the Knicks. It’s not breaking news that he transferred the organization’s mic to Eric his sportstra. Eric Poelstra was the coach of his handpicked to replace him in 2008, with LeBron well beyond his James’ four-year residency in Miami and his final title in the franchise in 2013. remains in that position.
Way back in 2012, I sampled the Heat’s locker room for a column about how Riley stepped out of the spotlight he could never resist. Dwyane Wade, who joined the Heat in 2003, said, “Most of the time he’s in the back and out of the way when it comes to players and he’s been doing that for a few years.”
Riley said his once-in-command voice, as in recent examples like Wade’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame and Heat veteran Udonis Haslem’s upcoming retirement He declined to discuss why, with rare exceptions, he is now rarely asked. and no one but his players wants to speak publicly.
Then it’s better to talk to someone whose job doesn’t depend on him.Riley’s protégé, Jeff Van Gundy, who became a coaching nemesis after Riley left New York in a storm in 1995, said: He said: Stay behind the scenes. do your job “
Dave Checkets, who hired Riley to coach the Knicks in 1991, recalled a phone conversation in which West warned him about Riley’s occasional conflict during the Lakers’ Showtime days. Pat loses his mind when someone says something nasty.
Checketts said: That’s why I give him so much credit for what he did in Miami. He was also a great spokesman for Spoelstra. ”
Six years ago, in his last lengthy conversation with Riley, he strayed from the agreed-upon interview topic — Magic Johnson’s brief ascension to the Lakers’ presidency. When complimenting him for staying competitive and refusing to tank despite losing James to Cleveland and Chris Bosh to medical problems, Riley said:
“Players come and go, great players. When LeBron left, it was the most shocking thing for me — let alone whether he was right or wrong — and the most shocking thing for the franchise. But our culture is the same: we have good years and bad years, but what we can’t change is the way we do things.”
It wasn’t necessarily all true. After the Heat’s loss to San Antonio in the 2014 NBA Finals, Riley undoubtedly referred to James’ looming free agency, telling reporters: And I can’t find the first escape door. ”
James still got out and left the stage. The old Riley tactics of challenging the player’s masculinity have fallen on deaf new-age ears. Most spiels get old. Riley, who was 69 at the time, is now much more sober, he’s now 78, and the Godfather Riley is more of a stealthy operator than Gordon Gekko Riley. Yet he remains undisputedly relevant and still glorious as he watches and waits for his final fuss-worthy auspicious occasion.