MIAMI — In most respects, their methods couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.
Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs have built their dynasty on a bedrock of consistency … with core players (first with David Robinson and Tim Duncan and later with Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) and an unchanging style and vision. It’s worked to the tune of five trips to The Finals in 15 seasons for Pop and his crew.
Pat Riley and the Miami Heat have built their program on a foundation that has shifted from Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal the Big 3 of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, sacrificing a long-term vision for whatever formula works right here and right now. It’s worked to the tune of four trips to The Finals, including three straight (… and counting), in the last eight seasons.
The contrasting styles does not overshadow the shared respect between two of the league’s most successful coaches/executives and the mutual admiration between two franchises that represent the past, present and potentially the future of championship-level franchise-building in a league where every team dreams of being the model.
When the Heat put together their current core in the summer of 2009, Popovich was one of the first league executives to call Riley and pay his respects and explained why this afternoon during the Spurs’ media availability session at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“Well, you know I still call him ‘Coach Riley.’ I can’t help it,” Popovich said. “I guess he’s ‘Executive Coach Riley’ and all that, slash whatever. But he’s been a competitor obviously his whole career, since he was he was a player in college and beyond. He put together a team fairly, within the rules, that is a monster. So why wouldn’t he get credit for that. Why wouldn’t you congratulate him for that?”
“So I did. I always respected his competitiveness and how he ran things in New York and LA and so on and so forth. And as an executive, he’s done the same thing. He lets people do what they do, puts things together and he put together a hell of a team. And so I called him to thank him because I respect him so much — not to thank him but to congratulate him. That’s the last thing I do is thank him for that.”
In an environment where envy and raw competition can sometimes go overboard and ruin relationship and off-court friendships, a healthy rivalry between these two shot-callers and franchises should make for an even more interesting battle in The Finals.