ever get back into it?" Dampier asked.
don't think so," Riley replied.
Twelve days later,
Van Gundy quit. Even those who abhor the way Riley let Van Gundy dangle over
the summer insist that he resigned for his family and has been happier ever
since. "Pat had nothing to do with Stan's decision," says Bill Van
Gundy, Stan's father, "and Pat doesn't deserve any rap of that
believe about this change, Riley's return to coach O'Neal and Wade always
seemed logical, if only in a narrative sense: He was the marquee coach in the
league's glory years, and his return to work motivational magic on its most
outsized personality and its newest superstar gave the Heat a glamour Detroit
and San Antonio will never match. TV programmers loved the prospect--no team
has appeared more on cable TV this season--and the players saw it as their due.
"Stan did an incredible job here," Mourning says. "But coaching
credibility? Hands down, Pat has it. So why not have the teacher here instead
of the pupil?"
stance was that this was a ride to the rescue: Van Gundy's sudden departure
demanded only one fix. "I'm the best person," Riley said when he took
over. "The team is a mess." Two weeks later Ramsay approached him
before the Heat's Christmas Day game and asked if everything was O.K. between
them. Riley smiled and said, "We're coaches. Sure!"
Those who know
Riley weren't shocked at his return to the sideline. Even now, few of Riley's
peers are more organized or work harder, and his ability to take something he
read or heard on TV and spin it into a compelling motivational speech remains
unmatched. And now, no matter what happens in these playoffs, the dip at the
end of his coaching bio will be balanced by a final spike upward, a blue-chip
stock's final rebound. And if he could make it past Detroit? "His legacy
would certainly expand," West says.
In returning to
the chase, Riley has been forced to face constant reminders of time's ravages.
His 96-year-old mother, Mary, began to decline in upstate New York, and Riley
missed the final two games of the season to be with her. Then last Friday,
before the playoff opener against Chicago, Mary died, and Riley found himself
preparing and coaching in grief. "My mother always used to say, and she
told me time and again this week, Life goes on, so get on with it," he said
before the opener.
earlier, his return to the bench had all but coincided with the release of
Glory Road, a movie about the first all-black college team to win a national
title. Riley, who had jumped center in the historic '66 loss to Texas Western,
was a consultant for the film, produced by his friend Jerry Bruckheimer, and
there was chatter about it everywhere as winter turned to spring--TV,
magazines, theaters, the in-room network in every hotel room--everywhere
reminders of his younger self, 40 years gone.
On January 21,
when all the Runts gathered at Lexington's Memorial Hall to commemorate the '66
team, Riley was to have been there. It was all arranged: The university would
send a jet to pick him up, he'd miss a practice. In Heat circles the fact that
Riley agreed to this was taken as a sign of his mellowing; the younger Riley
would never have skipped practice for a mere reunion. But then, the night
before the gathering, Miami lost to San Antonio at home. Riley sent regrets and
went back to work. Nineteen sixty-six was lost; he still had a chance to win
The Runts were
disappointed. That Riley evolved into such a grind didn't square with the Pat
they knew at Lexington; there he had been less disciplined, less obsessive. In
their room Riley would monopolize Dampier's phonograph player, and it was
always spinning: the Four Tops, the Supremes. "He was a free spirit,"
Dampier says. "He really loved music and dancing."