Wednesday, June 21, 2006 Updated: June 22, 10:56 AM ET
Riley's unexpected title
By Scoop Jackson Page 2
DALLAS -- It's one of those words you hate to toss around lightly: genius.
You hold on to it, reserve it; you hate to apply it to anyone who hasn't lived up to it or deserved it.
In the case of Pat Riley, after what he just did and more importantly how he went about doing it, it seems that six-letter word is the only applicable word. It's the only word fit to print.
After 18 years, Pat Riley is once again an NBA champion.
They say in a best-of-seven series the better team always wins. But what if a coach convinces his team that the first two games didn't count?
He's able to do this because he has been there before. Got rings on his fingers to prove it. And this is where the genius comes in. In the foresight.
Riley saw this before anyone. Even though Shaquille promised him a chip, he needed to see it in a way beyond Shaq's words to make it happen.
He caught heat when he replaced Stan Van Gundy in December; he caught white heat for the way he did it. Shaking up two-fifths of a starting lineup that was only one quarter away from going to the Finals last season put any consideration of "genius" in question. We simply didn't understand, even though we saw the master plan.
Could SVG had pulled this off? No. Could Miami have reached this goal with Eddie and Damon Jones instead of Jason Williams and Antoine Walker? Probably not.
Riley said, "In order to win a championship, you have to go through the fire." He preached that to his players. So when they were down two games, the Miami Heat never looked at the road they had to travel as anything they weren't prepared for. To them, it was only fire.
But Riley said two other things that changed the course of the destiny of this team. After Game 5, in response to a question about Dwyane Wade's taking the ball in his hands to win the game, he said, "There was no Plan B."
With that statement, he confirmed the notion that it was time to pass the baton to Wade as the soul provider and leader of his team. That it no longer was Shaq's. That with everything on the line, Riley knew the player he himself had built this franchise around was no longer the one to lead them to the mountaintop. It was his succumbing to "no Plan B" that was the reason he has ring No. 5 as a head coach.
Plan B? The only plan was to admit D-Wade had supplanted Shaq as the go-to-guy.
The second thing Riley said, and he said this to his team before Miami came back to Dallas: "I brought one suit, one shirt, one tie." He planned to play only one game. The Heat heeded those words.
He is, as they call him in small circles, the "master of the mental challenge." He's the motivational guru who put a bowl in the middle of a locker room and had 15 players buy into what was in it, the symbolism in it.
Even though Shaq won three rings with Phil Jackson, it was Riley who had Shaquille (who suggested they cover up the bowl until they won the whole thing) saying, "He's the best coach I ever had."
"Fifteen strong!" That's what Riley screamed into the Dallas crowd, back to his peoples in Miami. "Fifteen strong!" He didn't make any guarantees this time. But with a ballplayer like D-Wade, who knows whether he won't make one in the future.
The time was his more than anyone's. Because the fire he had his players walk through is nothing compared with the hell he went through to get here.
Drenched in Chandon he walked around the bottom of the American Airlines Center with a yellow card in his hand that at times he put in his pocket. There were thousands of those cards. All different colors, with different images on the front.
He always carried around these cards; he never knew why. He wanted them to have a deeper purpose. So he put them in a bowl. Turned them into confetti. Only to be used after the last game of the season.
As he brushed back his thinning hair with his hands, he spoke of how his biggest fear was that "I wasn't going to have enough" for this team in the end.
"Chasing," he said, standing outside the ABC interview room while Stephen A. awaited. "Eighteen years of chasing.
What was inside the big bowl? Don't call it confetti.
"[This championship] gives me a sense of absolute freedom. I'd give up all six of the ones I have for this one. ... I'm no longer chasing."
More questions flew his way. He was inside a huddle he didn't have to be inside. But he had words, beliefs, thoughts, wisdom inside of him he needed to share. Because every now and then, geniuses must expose the world to their process.
"We were able to do this because, in the course of the playoffs, we played teams equal to them," he spoke. "Chicago, New Jersey ..." he talked of teams who were the fire to him and his 15 men.
Men he defined as "established, strong and settled players." The type of players who don't get burned, who go through hell in gasoline draws, the type of players he picked to be a part of this moment.
I asked him before he got whisked away whether the moment would mean as much to him if he weren't on the bench, if he were just in his exec suite, looking down on what he created as the GM/VP of this instead of the coach.
"To be honest," he said, "probably not."
Then Shaq came out. And Riley's face lit up."He promised this!" Riles said of Big. Then he reached over and gave his franchise player love. That's when it hit him. Everything.
"A parade?!?" Riley screamed. "I forgot about that. We're going to have a parade!"
And this is what all geniuses say when a plan they orchestrated finally comes together and comes true. The following were the words of where a man's mind goes when he wins the championship no one thought he'd get.
A genius who has been there, done that and just did it again.
"Man," he said, "I gotta get my hot rods out."
Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has a weekly segment on "Cold Pizza" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.