Much has been said, written, and â€œpunditedâ€ about the offseason moves made by the Miami Heat, transforming the South Beach squad into a league juggernaut and initiating a seismic shift in the NBA landscape.
Some credit LeBron James for recognizing the patchy lawn beneath his feet in Cleveland and jumping to greener, potentially bejeweled pastures in Florida. Others point to Dwyane Wade as a â€œcompany man,â€ whose efforts in recruiting the likes of LeBron and Chris Bosh to â€œWadeâ€ County put him on-par with such noted basketball salespeople as John Calipari and shoe mogul Sonny Vaccaro.
Perhaps more easily forgotten in all of the hoopla and hubbub of July was the man behind the scenesâ€”the man who trumped â€œback channelsâ€ and â€œinside sourcesâ€ to create the â€œPerfect Stormâ€ in Hurricane Alley. The man with the shiny oil slick for a hair-do who trademarked the term â€œThree-Peatâ€.
That man, or should I say THE man, of course, is none other than Pat Riley.
It’s not a complete surprise that the man known affectionately as â€œRilesâ€ was able to string together a championship contender on the fly; heâ€™s done it before, in Miami no less (see 2006). However, the unprecedented way in which he went about itâ€”basically clearing his roster and starting over from scratch with three of the top 10 players in the NBAâ€”is indicative of Rileyâ€™s brilliance not just as a coach, but also as a front office executive.
Heâ€™s arguably the most successful person in basketball this side of Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson. Heâ€™s the NBAâ€™s version of Dale Carnegie, the famed early 20th-century lecturer whose book “How To Win Friends And Influence People” is widely considered the most successful and most influential self-help book of all time. Rileyâ€™s success would suggest heâ€™s practiced this art so well in his half century in basketball as to write his own tome, which might aptly be titled “How To Win Championships And Influence Free-Agents.”
Suppose Riles did so, and employed the same basic principlesâ€”namely the â€œFundamental Techniques in Handling Peopleâ€â€”outlined by Carnegie in his most famous work. Perhaps, then, one might better understand how he came to assemble a team with the makings of an instant dynasty.
1. Don’t Criticize, Condemn, Or Complain
Through injuries and the inconsistent play that came with them, Riley stood by Wadeâ€”the player he drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2003 and won him his fifth ring when Riley pushed aside Stan Van Gundy to take over a Heat squad that he put together himself, with D-Wade and Shaq as the centerpieces.
Following that championship season, Heat fans suffered through some stormy campaigns in South Beach, including a dismal 2007-2008 season in which Miami finished with a 15-67 record, the worst in the NBA. That netted them the second overall pick in the draft, which they used to select Michael Beasley, who struggled to live up to expectations in his short time with the Heat.
The discontent among the Heat faithful with four years of stagnant play, at best, following the franchiseâ€™s first championship made its way into the heart and mind of Wade, the undisputed face of the team. After an injury-plagued year in 2008, D-Wade came back with a vengeance the following season, playing his best year of basketball to date while leading Miami back to the playoffs (though the Heat were knocked out in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks).
When the team failed to show any noticeable improvement this past seasonâ€”both in terms of wins and personnelâ€”Wade shared his frustrations with the media, demanding substantial roster upgrades.
In particular he was looking for another All-Star-caliber player when he claimed that he wanted the Heat to be a â€œdog-and-pony show.â€ Not exactly the best use of this specific turn of phrase, but he got his message across.
While Wade was busy playing stellar basketball on the court and subtly (or not) criticizing, condemning, and complaining off the court, Riley was biding his time, shuffling his roster while doing everything he could to reassure his most prized asset that good times were on the way. Rather than shoot back at D-Wade through the media, Riles did everything he could to enlist Wadeâ€™s services by adhering to Carnegieâ€™s second rule…
2. Give Honest And Sincere Appreciation
Before he could ever hope to lure the likes of LeBron and Bosh to Miami, Riley knew full well he had get Wade back on board as the ringleader. This required reassurancesâ€”more in words than in actionsâ€”from Riley and trust from Wade, who was around the first time Pat whisked together a title team faster than the Ace of Cakes.
Riley did what he could with what he had, though his attempts in 2009 to land a star post player to complement Wade resulted only in the arrival of the past-his-prime, oft-injured Jermaine Oâ€™Neal. Still, Riles was doing his best to placate the star of his franchise, which Wade mustâ€™ve appreciated at some level as a sincere and honest gesture toward improving the team.
Otherwise, Wade likely wouldnâ€™t have been such a willing recruiter on Rileyâ€™s behalf. So with Riley unable to go out and attract free-agents until July 1st, he enlisted Wadeâ€™s services to…
3. Arouse In The Other Person An Eager Want
Long before the NBAâ€™s vaunted Summer of 2010 got underway, rumors swirled through the media about free-agent get-togethers and potential player collusion to mold the leagueâ€™s landscape to best suit the winning aspirations of all of the offseasonâ€™s biggest free agentsâ€”namely LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Amarâ€™e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, and Joe Johnson, among others.
At the center of this whirlwind was Wade, who allegedly was the chief conspirator behind the much-talked-about â€œFree Agent Summitâ€ and was leading the charge to lure his fellow superstars to South Beach even before free agency began.
Once the calendar turned to July, Riley was free to do his own work.
And work he did.
With his famous silver mane greased up like never before, Riley arrived in Cleveland with a contingent of Miami Heat personnel during the first week of July to court LeBron at the offices of The Kingâ€™s much-maligned high school buddy-turned-manager, Maverick Carter.
Undoubtedly, LeBron and his â€œteamâ€ sat through plenty of well-pitched, professionally-impeccable presentations, which included everything from lucrative business plans to roster-centric appeals. While Riley had neither the big-market appeal of New York and LA, nor a loaded roster (the Heatâ€™s roster consisted of Beasley and Mario Chalmers at that point) to entice LeBron, he had one asset that no one else could match.
Rings. Five, to be exact. And not just rings as a playerâ€”like Byron Scottâ€”but, perhaps more importantly, as a coach and director of player personnel. Among the many contestants, Riley was the only one with the knowledge and experience of building AND coaching championship teams, with plenty of shiny jewelry to back him up.
While Wade did all he could to get his buddy LeBron to bring his â€œtalents to South Beach,â€ including getting Bosh to commit to a major move from Toronto, it was undoubtedly Riley who closed the deal. He was able to arouse and prey on LeBronâ€™s eager desire to win, as much for the rings themselves as for the furthering of his â€œbrandâ€ abroad.
And how exactly did he do this?
According to â€œsourcesâ€ reporting on the meetings following LeBronâ€™s botched â€œDecision,â€ Riley brought his five rings with him to Cleveland on that fateful day in July. He showed them to LeBron. Riles even indulged the Kingâ€™s vanities by letting him try them on, to see what it really feels like to be king.
No offense to Alonzo Mourning or Heat owner Mickey Arison, who accompanied Pat Riley to those meetings, but those championship rings were all Riley needed to get LeBron to leap to golden shores, even if the money was greener in Cleveland.
So, the day after LeBron made his announcement in the most gut-wrenchingly painful way possibleâ€”when the newly-dubbed Miami Thrice were dancing on stage with Flo Rida and musing playfully about winning four, five, even six championships togetherâ€”Riley sat quietly amongst the crowd of roaring Heat fans. There he was, observing the fruits of his years of labor behind Miamiâ€™s front desk, fingers interlocked and elbows planted on arm rests, while contemplating how to fill out the Heatâ€™s roster with the little wiggle room that would be left after the â€œHeatlesâ€ signed on the dotted line.
Of course, in a perfect world, it would have been Riley on that stage, being showered with praise and thanks from the people of Miami for pulling off perhaps the greatest coup in the history of sports free-agency. Itâ€™s possible, had that happened, that Riley would have grabbed the microphone and thanked the fans, the players, and maybe even Carnegie himself.
Itâ€™s possible that, at some point during the party, Riley thought to himself, â€œHow did I do this? I never thought, in a million years, I could pull this off.â€
Itâ€™s possible, all right. But then again, when you know how to win friends and influence people as well as Riley does, anything is possible.