It's one of those strange coincidences that the Miami Heat, a team that plays home games inches away from the waters of Biscayne Bay, seems to have an aquatic theme underlying their front office. The team's owner, Micky Arison, was the longtime CEO of the Carnival Corporation and continues to serves as the cruise line's Chairman of the Board.
And in an NBA offseason that is not yet two weeks old, Heat President Pat Riley has been the vocal captain, calmy steering Miami's ship through a torrential storm.
He's gotten some flak from media and fans alike, the Twitter-verse feeling the need to attack Riley's efforts over the last week. His season-end press conference from just days ago was seen as "angry," "aggressive" and "rambling."
For Heat fans - and former players familiar with Riley's motivational tactics - the speech was nothing short of perfect.
No less an expert than Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who won five championships with Riley at the helm, made his appreciation well-known:
Pat Riley during his press conference, had me so fired up and motivated! I wish I could play for him again!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) June 19, 2014
Therein lies the greatness of Riley, the master motivator, using his words to unite a fanbase and their team almost in the same breath. He tells fans to "get a grip" before the panic and doubt and speculation erases all that has been accomplished over the last four years. Just seconds later, he tells his players, some of the greatest in the world, to "stay together if you've got the guts."
While the speech may have too long for some, it's acceptable for Riley to be a little effusive after a long regular season and a crushing defeat in this year's Finals. Keep in mind that the Heat president has quietly and consciously retreated away from the limelight to ensure head coach Erik Spoelstra is the face of the team's front office. But after a year of "Spo-isms" and being attacked by those brave souls from the shadows of social media, it was time for Spoelstra to step back and for Riley - still and always the Captain - to face the media and public once again.
There's a bit of irony in how Riley, when facing arguably the toughest challenge of his career as the man behind the Heat's curtain, captured the essence of what Miami fans must feel regarding LeBron James' impending decision. Nearly four years ago, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert penned a letter that brought mockery on him and his team. But to the Cleveland faithful, his words gave a public voice to their feelings of betrayal by James' departure.
Conversely, on the eve of yet another milestone in James' career, Riley fulfills that role as the voice of the people but his dealings with the superstar player are much more proactive.
When news broke that James' would indeed opt out of his contract, Riley once again spoke on behalf of the Heat front office. Some believe his statement was unnecessary, that it seemed like a sign of weakness; by explaining that the move was "fully expected", perhaps Riley was simply covering his bases. That's a jaded perspective, something else for people to fan the flames of paranoia. Instead, it seems that Riley was telling fans, media, players - everyone - that this is all part of a plan. This is what the Heat thought would happen and everyone should still get a grip; there's nothing to worry about.
It makes sense that one of Riley's best motivational speeches keeps in line with the water-based theme - burning the boats. It's been around for some time now but, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, this is the best version I could find via the New York Times:
The story is about a group of tribal warriors who spend several years building boats in order to make war with another tribe and retake an island that once was theirs. The day the tribe lands on the island, the chief instructs his warriors to burn the boats. Shocked, they asked why. Riley in his inimitable way, added the kicker: ''This way,'' the chief said, ''there will be no retreat.''
On a day when the greatest player in basketball opted out of his contract, Riley is once again reaffirming to Heat fans that there is ‘no retreat.' There is no escaping the madness of free agency but there must be faith that an escape won't be necessary because victory is at hand.
Riley's words may be mocked or may be considered unnecessary to those that stand outside the impending storm of free agency. But to Miami's fans, they're a beacon of safety, a lighthouse that guides the faithful back to the calm shores and away from the troubled waters of speculation.