Pat Riley's Triple Crown in Miami
As if he needed any more validation -- he really didn't -- the free agent signings Friday of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade -- the Three Kings of Miami -- will become the pinnacle of his career, the signature he will leave on the game well after he steps away.
This truly was his Triple Crowning moment.
Riley already has been part of seven NBA titles -- one as a player and six as a coach, but he also just laid the groundwork for several more as management with an unprecedented accomplishment.
It's a resume that neither Phil Jackson, nor Red Auerbach, nor nor anyone else, can match. He has now done it all, something no one else can say.
When he joined the Miami Heat in 1995, Riley promised an NBA title, which he delivered four years ago. Now he has delivered the start of a dynasty, by convincing three of the game's greatest players to set their egos -- in an era of unbelievable egos -- and become one.
And don't for a minute believe it would have happened under anyone else's watch. This was Riley all the way. His fingerprints are all over it.
It took Riley's unwavering confidence, his single-purposed resolve, and the aura that he has built through the years to make it all work. Getting James, a two-time Most Valuable Player just entering the prime of his career, to turn his back on his beloved hometown, was a work of Riley's genius, a stroke that hardly anyone really believed could happen until a few weeks ago.
What Riley used to do on the sideline as a coach, he just did from his office, outfoxing everyone in New York, in Chicago and in Cleveland. He kicked some ass.
James could have found more fame in New York City. He would have received more fortune in Cleveland, more popularity and a reverence for his own loyalty. He might even have won easier in Chicago. But instead, arguably the most talented player in basketball history, came to Miami to see the vision that Riley sold.
"Once again, he (Riley) did something miraculous,'' proclaimed Wade. "He's proven how great he is. He's already in the Hall of Fame, what else do you want?''
All three stars have bought it. And it's easy to see why.
Riley won 1,151 regular season games NBA as a coach, third on the all-time list. He was NBA Coach of the Year three times, with three different franchises. He coached in the NBA Finals nine times, spanning 25 years.
He won championships when he was young and so full of himself, four with the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers in the '80s. It was a different era then, yet the passion he had 20 years before as a coach, remains today as a team president. It's how he won his last championship four years ago when he built the team as an executive, and then coached it to a championship. It's why there are more now on the way.
When he sat down last week with James, who was wavering on which team to choose, Riley plopped a small bag of championship rings on the table for James to see. Then he started talking about those rings, and how James could start his own collection in Miami.
"When we actually got to visit in front of the players, you could see it (the Riley touch),'' said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "And players started to believe. He (Riley) really thinks big, every single conversation. It doesn't even have to be about basketball. We could be talking about redoing a kitchen, and he'll turn it into making a two-level, state-of-the-art something. The single thing I learned from Pat, from working for him for 15 years, is to think big. Really big.''
Riley is the one who orchestrated the big trade for Shaquille O'Neal in 2004, encouraging him to arrive at the arena that first day in the 18-wheel, diesel-powered, tractor trailer, accentuating his dream. It led to the 2006 NBA title.
Riley also was the one who traded Shaq, convincing Phoenix in 2008 to take his bloated contract, setting into motion that two-year journey of roster manipulations that culminated Friday with the signing of James, Bosh and Wade and the power-shift in the NBA.
Riley spent the last two years crafting a roster that stayed playoff competitive, yet stayed flexible enough to create the massive salary cap hole fit for the Kings.
When Riley arrived at American Airlines Arena Friday night for the Heat Welcome Party in front of 13,000 fans, he declined the chance to get on stage with Bosh, Wade and James, who bathed in the adulation of the crowd and the rock-concert frenzy that erupted.
He sat in the seats with his wife and his owner, content in knowing he accomplished what most thought was impossible, landing the talent that will make Miami a power for many years, leaving behind what may be his greatest accomplishment in basketball.
"I know what it takes to win,'' Riley said.