MIAMI — This was it. This was the moment. This was why Pat Riley is the legend he is.
“You want to trend something? I’m pissed,” he first said in sitting down Thursday morning in AmericanAirlines Arena.
This is why the Heat are a championship organization and so many others wonder why they aren’t.
“I think everybody needs to get a grip,” he said. “Media. Heat players. Organization. All of our fans. We’ve got to get a grip. I’ve been here 45 years in the NBA. I’ve witnessed dynasties. I’ve witnessed great teams.
“The ‘80 Lakers — five championships in 12 years. So seven years, they didn’t win. The Celtics were a great team for 12 years in the ‘80s. Three wins. Nine losses.”
Jordan’s Bulls? They lost for years. San Antonio, the team that just beat the Heat? They won five titles in 17 years.
“What’s the math? They lost 12 times,” he said.
Riley was at the crux of the sermon now, and it wasn’t meant for you or me or anyone watching live on ESPN or NBA TV. It was meant for an audience of one — for LeBron James. Just him. Only him. And the question becomes how LeBron takes the challenge Riley threw.
“You’ve got to stay together if you’ve got the guts and you don’t find the first door and run out of it,” he said. “This is four years into this era for this team. Four (NBA) Finals. It’s only been done three other times before. And two championships.
“From day one to the end, it was like a Broadway show. It ran out of steam. And we need to retool. We don’t need to rebuild. We need to retool.”
Give us the chance to retool, he was saying to LeBron. Trust us in the manner you did in 2010 when all LeBron and Chris Bosh had to bank on was trust.
“I’m not dropping championship rings on the table for those guys,” he said, referring to the way he recruited LeBron then. “They can drop their own.”
This was Riley at his best. Perspective? Vision? Clarity? Championship-proven leadership? All accompanied by the weight of history in a tent-revival delivery.
Oh, sure, there was smoke-and-mirrors fudging, such as when Riley tried to defend not re-signing Mike Miller last offseason or using the mid-level exception for a veteran. There’s no real defending those except in Miller’s case as a chance for owner Micky Arison to save some money. But in general?
“I’ve been a leader and a decision-maker,” he said. “This has been a great run. It ended up like most losses. I know what it is to win. We watched it. The confetti drops. Everybody hugs each other, kisses each other.
“Men embrace. ‘I love you, I love you.’ They punch each other, ‘Hey, bro, this is how it’s going to be.’ And it’s true. This is what creates a forever bond. But what cements a forever bond is what we went through in a year like this and stay the course. Losing is just as much a part of it as winning is.”
This is the voice few organizations ever have. He said coach Erik Spoelstra needs “to re-invent himself,” which was harsh but true to keep players listening. He supported LeBron (“He knows I love him”), and Wade but he didn’t publicly pander to the players the way most sports leaders do.
“One of the things that was a common thread (in exit interviews with the players) is they were mentally exhausted, mentally fatigued,” he said. “I understand that. I don’t accept it. I believe if you go to the Finals four years in a row, and you play more than anyone else, you’ve got to prepare for it.
“That’s where you want to be, so you’ve got to prepare for it. If the players were saying this was a tough year, it was a grind every night — welcome to the NBA and world championships. They should all have a discussion with Bill Russell on winning eight straight championships.”
No excuses, he said. Wouldn’t you want that standard if a championship is your aim?
“What are you going to do to make the team better?” he said the players should be thinking, “because we have a long-term opportunity.”
He came down from the throne. He changed the conversation about the Heat. He was strong and direct and once again set the bar for leadership of a championship organization beyond what most teams can deliver.
“I didn’t come down here 19 years ago for a quick trip to South Beach and a suntan,” he said. “I don’t think these guys did, either.”
Game 7 was scheduled for Friday night. Instead, we’re hip-deep into such questions and disappointment that a historic, four-year run is sloughed off.
“Get a grip,” Riley said.
He was asked if he told the players that.
“I’m telling them right now,” he said.