MIAMI — Two nights earlier, Pat Riley had been honored by his peers with a lifetime achievement award, receiving a trophy named after a rival and friend – late Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly – for whom he had much love and respect.
It was a special moment and an introspective one, with Riley talking about his career, the influences on his life and style and a little about his future, as well as the state of the game.
Then came Thursday, when the Miami Heat clinched the 2012 NBA championship in five games over the Oklahoma City Thunder, thrusting Riley into the spotlight on a bigger stage as the architect of a grand, superstar-driven blueprint. Now that was a special moment – Riley’s eighth title as a player, coach or executive. It had Riley calling out to the jubilant fans at AmericanAirlines Arena: “Can we have a party tonight?! Is it OK to have a party tonight?!”
“This is a great, great, great group,” Riley had said during the on-court presentation of the Larry O’Brien trophy. “This is right now not about anybody else but the coaches, the players, the staff, the employees that work for the Heat. … It’s not easy. It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.”
And naturally, within minutes of having done that most difficult thing, Riley was asked about the Heat’s chance of doing it all over again next June. “Well, we believe we built a team that’s going to be around for a while, and our goal is to hopefully come back every year,” he said.
The Heat coming back, that’s fine. But Riley has no interest in a personal comeback. Not as a coach. For much of Miami’s two-year grind to reach its goal, he was presumed to be lurking just off stage, ready to step in if protégé Erik Spoelstra faltered. But he never did – Spoelstra was his hand-picked guy – and he definitely won’t now. Or apparently ever.
Whatever competitive itches he still feels, either they’ll get scratched from his role as team president or they’ll go unscratched.
“I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to [replace the satisfaction of coaching],” Riley said in accepting the award Tuesday from the National Basketball Coaches Association. “I mean, to be out on the court and be a player and be a coach and be in the heat of the battle – real competitive battle where the adrenaline is rushing – it’s a whole ‘nother world. You get out of the game because sometimes that takes its toll, also, over 30 years.
“But I don’t have that kind of itch. Building the team, being around the players, working every day with a group of people that I’ve come to know and love in a big way, for me it’s a privilege because it’s worth their time. … So I’m looking to build this thing even better, and I don’t have any timeline. I’ve still got a lot of bite left in my bark. But it’s directed in another direction.”