MIAMI -- Pat Riley might be getting older, but the way he felt and looked in the early hours Friday morning never gets old to him. White starched shirt: soaked. Iconic hair: soggy. Stoic expression: gone. Championship smile: wide.
In the midst of the celebration hysteria of another NBA title, the ninth for him as a player/assistant coach/head coach/executive, Riley decided to talk championships, and when he does that, you listen. The man's an expert.
"There was only one dynasty and that dynasty was the Celtics of the '60s," he said. "Now if you want to move forward because the rules have changed, if you can win five or six like Michael [Jordan] did or San Antonio did, then yes. You can talk about this team as being a great team.
"We got a young team -- a lot of people think it's old -- and a veteran team and we have so much ahead of us. We're going to go for it and we're going to go for it every year."
It's not that simple. It never is. Even when you reach the championship stage three straight years and cash in twice, as the Heat just did, the next round of challenges are ready to block you like LeBron James did Tiago Splitter. Contractually, the Heat are tied to the Big Three for only one more season. After that, it gets hazy. Things can happen. Goals can change. Bodies can change. Mindsets can change. Other teams, the contenders who want what they Heat have, they can change, too.
In the context of greatness, whatever that word means these days, the Heat probably fall short when compared to champions of the past. But why play that game right now? One: Miami isn't done, as Riley said. Two: Eras are different, the rules are different, the game is different.
But Miami had a plan, a bold plan, and so far it's working. Riley cleared space to make a run at something that's never been done under the modern salary cap system and three players bought into the idea of coming together and taking less money for the chance to win rings.
And from the standpoint of being selfless and developing a common and shared goal and seeing it through, well, there's something dynastic about that.
Riley was the one who pulled all the strings. He drafted Wade. He recognized the potential in a young video coordinator and promoted Erik Spoelstra through the ranks, grooming him to be a head coach who's headed to the Hall of Fame someday. And he was the one who met a now-four-time MVP in a conference room three summers ago and threw a collection of championship rings on the table, as a way to tell LeBron what true greatness was.
LeBron can escape his contract next summer and, if he wants, return to the Cavaliers or stay in Miami or do something no one sees coming. Wade could be too risky physically for the Heat to gamble with a long contract. Bosh? Who knows. And owner Micky Arison might be unwilling to spend millions in luxury taxes. But Riley's not sweating all that right now.
"As Micky said a couple of weeks ago, it's about this year, and then next year, and then we'll see where it goes."
About Spoelstra, Riley said: "Erik is a great coach. And he will continue to evolve. As I sit there watching the game, very confident that our team is going to be prepared that night, I know how much time and effort he puts into this. He's the first one here in the morning and the last to leave at night. He doesn't have a bunch of golf clubs. He deserves a lot of credit."
About LeBron: "Look, he's won two championships. I think too often we've go back to that whole thing ["not one, not two, not three" prediction] all the time. That was a joyous coming together of three players. And we built this thing around them. We make so much of that and how it was done and it's all BS because it's about what's in front of us, not behind us. I wish we can stop talking about that. He's been to the Finals three years in a row now. He's won two championships and two MVPs with us. I believe in LeBron."
On Wade: "He said he had one game in him. One game. Well, he had more than one game in him. We're going to get him healed up, get his knees healed up. He's a great, great player. He's a guy who played with injuries for the last two months but came up big, big, big when it counted. And we expect him to come up big for the next six or seven years."
On how the Big Three blueprint has come together: "I'm just so grateful that they all said yes. We planned for something, and if those three hadn't said yes, then we would've gotten three other guys to say yes. But those three said yes, and said yes rather quickly. And it was a testament to Micky, to the city of Miami that this is where they wanted to play."
On the expectations to win a title every year: "It's like a 60-pound boulder on your back. But we don't have to worry about that anymore this year."
And finally, what about the team president? What does Riley think about him? What about Pat Riley, age 68? Where is he right now and where is he going? Hopefully nowhere, Riley said. He wants to see this through, ride this championship horse for as long as it can gallop. For Riley, you see, this never gets old.
"Hell, I thought I was going to be gone in 2003," he said, remembering how tough things were before Wade arrived. "I did 30 years on the rock, OK? That's a long time. I'm at an age now where I'm ready to fly off somewhere but I'm not going to. The good Lord has blessed me with a team that has allowed me to grab onto His coattails. As long as they want to be together, I want to be here. It's been an incredible experience. I thank Micky from the bottom of my heart to allow me to do the things I could do to help make this thing great."
Before walking away to join his family and soak up the champagne, Riley wanted to make a final point. The championship climb is grueling, he said, and takes you through so many emotions, even as an executive. During games Riley sits in the stands, motionless, showing the cool that personified him during the Showtime '80s. But he is anything but cool, he said. He does not talk to anyone, even his wife next to him. He does not want anyone to talk to him. He paraphrased on old Chuck Daly line to explain what all of that feels like.
"There's winning," Riley said, "and there's misery. You go through a lot of pain in the losses and the joy you feel when you win is short-term. That lasts until the next game."