The NBA has been littered with ultra competitors throughout history. Michael Jordan was nearly sociopathic in his pursuit of glory, while Kobe Bryant was not far behind him locked in a constant battle of his own. However, Jordan and Bryant’s time as ultra competitors playing the game has come and gone (of course Jordan still is competing as owner of the Hornets). Pat Riley however, has been competing consistently since 1981 and after helping to usher in two amazing eras of NBA basketball (The Showtime Era, and the Big Three era) he has no intention of slowing down…well until he wins another championship.
Currently Riley has nine championship rings, however as made evident in Wright Thompson’s exceptional piece for ESPN that he longs for a tenth.
In his piece, Thompson reflects on an exchange Peter Gruber (one of Riley’s oldest friends) had with Riley shortly after the Heat had strung together their very impressive midseason stretch. Riley was at a crossroads with himself and the game of basketball. He’d just dealt with his daughter’s cancer scare, and had some special moments with his wife Chris that had him seriously realizing that there was a great life outside of being the “Godfather”. The exchange happened when Pat was in his garden while Miami battled LeBron in Cleveland. Surrounded by his wife, grandson, and beautiful garden Riley seemed to have...well the life of Reilly, however he’s seemingly haunted by the obsession that comes with winning. In the article Thompson writes:
"I will go work in the garden and pick some fresh vegetables and play with my grandson while they battle," he says. "We will have a great meal as we watch the game on TV."
"You have a garden?"
"A major plan," he replies. "Right now all imagery, but I see it."
He sees the vegetables, with Chris in those thick gloves with a shovel, yet he also sees one more title run. The competing visions leave him conflicted. "I NEED ONE MORE," he writes in a text message immediately after talking about the garden. "AND I KNOW THIS WILL BE THE TOUGHEST TO GET."
Pat Riley is one of the most interesting figures in sports. His own basketball career was storied, and for a while Riley stepped away from the game of basketball entirely before becoming a Lakers broadcaster. Since then he’s gone from being a “player’s coach” to an almost mythical creature in basketball lore. He’s angered basketball giants, stood toe to toe with the greatest, but even when he falls he dusts off his perfectly tailored suits, shines up his rings and keeps winning. He wants to win and feels as if this Miami Heat team can compete with, but only with some additional help:
“Over drinks, the day before that 82nd and final game, next season comes into focus. They're not good enough to beat the Warriors with the current lineup. He's not good enough. The team needs at least one star, and probably two, to compete.”
It’s this concept of winning that drives Riley as it did both Jordan and Bryant, and it is his resistance to mediocrity that will drive the Heat to a tenth title. It’s obvious that falling one game short of the playoffs irked Reilly unlike anybody else. Pat Riley is obsessed with improvement, he’s always looking to make the Heat better and it’s this obsession that should amount to a very intriguing Heat offseason.