It’s been a while since we really heard from Miami Heat president Pat Riley. He says that’s because he wanted head coach Erik Spoelstra to be the voice after the Heat toppled Oklahoma City and won the NBA Championship. But he’s back now and he’s certainly been busy since adding another ring to his collection.
Shortly after the playoffs were over, Riley traded a draft pick, signed free agents Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis and shifted gears toward next year. That doesn’t mean there’s no time to look back on the past one, however, and he says LeBron James overcame incredible internal and external adversity as he came to terms with who he was.
Pat Riley joined WQAM in Miami with Joe Rose to discuss winning his eighth championship, what the weeks following that were like, signing Ray Allen, LeBron James playing in the Olympics, James’ progression in the last year or so and what he did to celebrate winning another ring.
You’ve won eight championships as a player, assistant coach, coach or in the front office. Where does this one rank?:
“I think every single one has a special place in your heart and in your mind and in your soul. Really, a lot of them have to do with the place you were in your life — where you lived, your friends, your family, your kids, what their age was, they all bring on different emotions. This was absolutely an incredible win for us. I’m getting a little bit older now, so it’s not as gushing as it was in 1982 or 1985 … but from the standpoint of watching guys like LeBron, Chris, Shane Battier and James Jones and Juwan Howard, just like we did in 2006 when Zo won his first title … it was the same kind of feeling. It ranks right up there.”
What was the week or two right after the championship like, where you had to immediately turn around and start focusing on next year with the draft and free agency and such?:
“It’s crazy. That was the crazy part of it for me. Everybody here in the organization has a role and they all do their jobs. While we were going through the playoffs and travelling with the team … all of our scouts were getting ready for the draft and preparing for the draft and then we’re also getting ready for free agents, making preliminary calls. … We hit the ground running. A couple days after we had won the title, the draft was right here on top of us and we traded our pick for a future pick next year and then were very fortunate enough to get right out of the box and get Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to agree to come here.”
Was Ray Allen priority number one?:
“I would say so, yes. We had a list of five or six guys and right now, there isn’t any kind of philosophical bent as to, ‘Well, we’re going to go in this direction.’ … I think you could see what experience meant to our team. Ray brings us somebody who’s not only one of the best shooters in the history of our game, but one of the most-conditioned and best-conditioned athletes ever, so with he and Rashard … we feel like with both of those players, they were at the top of our list.”
How did you feel about LeBron James playing in the Olympics?:
“I look at it as a plus because he wants to play. He really is proud to play for his country and this is big-time stuff to him. This isn’t just the Olympics and he’s over there pushing his brand and stuff like that. He wants to win. … I’m sure he’s going to take some time off after, but the kind of conditioning that is required for an athlete like him, not only to go through an NBA season, win a world championship and then go right on into the Olympics is the kind of conditioning that’s above and beyond. … I think he’s going to be able to endure this.”
What have you seen with LeBron in the last 12 months?:
“The truly gifted athletes and great, great players, where all of the responsibility, or a good portion of the responsibility is thrust on them to produce for your team to win, he’s an example of one of those guys. You go back in history and the biggest fights or championship games in all sports, and somewhere one of those players like LeBron will always rise above the norm. … So, how he changed over the course of the season really had to do with a man that came to terms with really, who he was, what he was trying to project out there, and he said this many times, was somebody that he was not. And I think he was in constant disharmony with the media and how he was being covered. … I think he’s erased all of that and I think great, great players who are highly judged get the credit, get the criticism and then they get the fame that comes with all of that. … He overcame incredible external adversity, internal adversity with how he felt about himself and in the very end of the day, he was the one raising the trophy.”
What did you do to celebrate the night you won the championship?:
“Once you win it, it’s about 30 minutes of an absolute team, tribal ritual — the locker room, champagne, the hugs and the relief. It’s just a wonderful achievement and you’re so happy for everybody and you’re happy to be in the moment. … We had a wonderful staff party that we had set up on the practice court that night, so everybody in the organization, the players came up after and hung out for a couple of hours. So everybody got to enjoy each other. … Then, the real party had started. And when that started, I didn’t go to it. … I did the next night, though. Micky and I went out and we got caught at [a club], which we had a lot of fun. I think that got tweeted out all over the world, so I think we thoroughly embarrassed ourselves and then went home.”