Riley’s Thread Ties Streak Record Chase

If the Heat finally run their win streak to 34, break the record of the legendary 1971-72 Lakers and plant their flag in the pages of history, it will likely be the result of something spectacular done by LeBron James. Or heroic by Dwyane Wade. Or timely by Chris Bosh. Or perhaps out-of-this-world unexpected by the likes of Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers.

But making it all happen will have been Pat Riley, the link to past and present. As much as anyone in the game over the past four-plus decades, he’s the thread you cannot pull without some part of the NBA story unraveling — from the Showtime Lakers to the Slow Time Knicks to the South Beach Shuffle.

This steamrolling monster is his creation, a plan so bold and audacious that nobody really thought he could pull it off, and it all grew out of an intense drive that is belied by the image of slicked-back hair and designer suits.

The truth is, he’s always been far more Arm & Hammer than Armani, the Schenectady, N.Y., street tough who absorbed the work ethic of a father who toiled for 22 years in baseball’s minor leagues.

On that historic Lakers team with Hall of Famers Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich, Riley was a member of the supporting cast, but no less vital to the cause.

“He’s tenacious,” West said recently in a conference call with reporters. “I’d say to him in practice, ‘Go beat the hell out of Goodrich, I’m tired.’ ”

He’d been a high school star and his Linton team took down mighty Lew Alcindor and Power Memorial in 1961. He starred for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky when the Wildcats lost to the first all-black lineup from Texas Western in 1966 and was the No. 7 overall pick in the 1967 NBA draft by the expansion San Diego Rockets.

But by the time he was part of that famous Lakers roster, Riley was like a circus mouse trying to avoid getting trampled by the elephants. He used his wits to survive, sheer hustle to make his presence felt and overall relentlessness to carve out a nine-year NBA career.

“He definitely wanted to play more,” West said. “But it was a special group of guys and, like all of us, he understood that.”

Sure, he would never have won those four championships as a coach in L.A. without stars named Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. He wouldn’t have headlined on Broadway without a marquee star in Patrick Ewing. He wouldn’t be sitting in the middle of this 21st century media-frenzied hullaballoo today without the overpowering phenomenon that is now LeBron. Yet his own past has taught him the value of the cast of formidable role players he has brought to Miami in Battier and Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and Norris Cole.

Miami draws attention for its glamor — James taking the express elevator to the top floor to hammer home the dunk in Orlando or flushing and then scowling at Jason Terry in Boston — but the Heat have become the only team to seriously threaten the 33-game win streak because of a defense that is ferocious, hungry and unforgiving, like their architect.

For all that he has done on the many sidelines and the various front offices, maybe nothing defines him like the 1985 NBA Finals, when the Celtics blasted his Lakers 148-114 in Game 1 in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre.

Before his team took the floor for Game 2 at the old Boston Garden, Riley repeated words that had once been spoken by his father:

“The fact is, that to do anything in the world worth doing, we must not stand back … Some place, sometime, you are going to have to plant your feet, stand firm, and make a point about who you are and what you believe in. When that time comes, you simply have to do it.”

The Lakers won Game 2 and eventually the series, defeating the Celtics for the first time ever in the postseason to claim one of their most significant championships.

At 68, that drive and resolve are the rhythms that beat at his core, the occasional awkward dance steps on YouTube jammin’ to Bob Marley notwithstanding.

So when James and Bosh were both heading toward free agency three years ago and most NBA teams were scrambling for a way to get their hands on one of them, Riley’s plan was the bigger, bolder and bodacious one. An old friend who’d stopped by for a visit in Miami during that time recalls stepping into a darkened office where Riley sat, half-lit by the beam of a single desk lamp as wisps of smoke from a cigarette rose past his face.

“He reminded me of Col. Kurtz from Apocalypse Now,” said the friend. “Who knew what was going on inside that head?”

Now we know as we watch his awesome creation keep marching on.

“I’m happy for my friend, Pat Riley,” said West, “who was able to do it as a player and is able to replicate it as an executive.”

The thread through history with ties that bind.

11 Comments

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  2. Julz17 says:

    Because coach Spo is Half-Filipino.. thats why..

  3. Jaybe2K9 says:

    Not A Heat Fan: what the hell are you talking about? Spoelstra won’t win COTY because he has too much star power? I agree that he won’t win the award, but you cite Durant and Lebron as examples…Scott Brooks won in 09-10 with Durant (not to mention Westbrook and Harden) and the year before that, Mike Brown won it with Lebron on his team. Do you even watch basketball bro?

    For whatever reason, Spo just doesn’t get any love. Yeah he’s got a team with a lot of talent, but he’s still got the job of managing egos and also keeping role-players motivated and ready even though they don’t get many minutes.

    • HEAT136 34 says:

      True that! Spo deserves COY regardless of its star power…My picks are Spo, Pop, & Carl. The win streak should give Coach Spo an extra boost!

    • Heaters Gonna Heat says:

      The reason in which Spo most likely won’t get the award is due to the other teams surrounding them this year. The Clippers Vinny, has more of a chance as they weren’t expected to make this big of a splash (though they’ve dropped off lately), Frank Vogel was doing alright until they started to implement the injured back in then their consistency fell… In fact, I put my money on George Karl as Denver was the surprise of the year, plus they stuck it to every Western conference team… The Heaters were supposed to.

      Spo doesn’t need coach of the year, not because he doesn’t deserve it, but he’ll be remembered as an all time great once he’s done. He may not get recognition now, but ultimately his legacy will exceed all but 5 or so coaches in League history… Plus, he’s got Pat ‘Three-Peat/Re-Heat’ Riley…

  4. KunJayMaster says:

    Good article man, hopefully they can make it happen. Pat inspires so much respect, the most important pieces of that Heat team is playing for less money than they are worth and that only can be attributed to Riley…who else can make this happen.

  5. Nosaj23 says:

    Such a good article to read, Pat Riley is the best architect in basketball, KEEP WINNING MIAMI HEAT!!!!

  6. Not A Heat Fan says:

    Spoelstra won’t win coach of the year. Not because he doesn’t deserve it, but because coaches with that much star power on their teams will always be second guessed and people will always say, “There only that good because they have Lebron/Durant.” As if these coaches didn’t have something to do with the way these players thrive within there systems.

    • BIGMatta23 says:

      Case in point…Phil Jackson. One Coach of the year award and the Bulls had to win 72 games for him to get it. Guys like Don Nelson and Bill Fitch have more than him, I mean c’mon, seriously!?

  7. MiamiHEATFAN55 says:

    Pat Riley is a great Executive. But I haven’t heard a single word on hangtime about the credit that Erik Spoelstra deserves. I just don’t understand it. I hope that (since the media decides who gets the Coach of the Year Award) if Miami gets the longest streak in NBA history, that the media finally caves and gives Spoelstra the Coach of the Year award that he deserves.

    • who did what says:

      LOL Spoelstra is as great as a coach as Vinny Del Negro is.

      OT: I’d like to mention that when the Lakers finally lost and their 33 game win streak came to an end, Pat Riley contributed hugely in that game with 0 points.