Some people assumed that Riley would return to coach one of the most dynamic trios in the game today. Comparing his and coach Erik Spoelstra’s resume would surely boost Riley in the hearts and eyes of NBA fans, but he has remained in the background.
Riley refuses to vacate his executive position with the franchise and coach him.
Even though it may be exactly what LeBron James needs.
When you look at the history of the game and you see players like Michael Jordan and even the recently ousted Kobe Bryant, you see beside them a phenomenal coach that was responsible for multiple championships. In the case of both Jordan and Bryant, you see the same man.
You see Phil Jackson.
Coach Jackson was one of the most authoritative manipulators the game has ever seen and always worked it to his advantage. He was able to do things that many coaches would shy away from. Jackson was able to coach superstars and convince them to buy into his system—a championship system.
It is the general consensus that superstars cannot be coached until they hit the bottom. However, Jackson was able to compose a formula that would allow him to have consistent control over his team and never run the risk of a threat to the established hierarchy. Jackson was able to milk his superstars for 11 championships—six with Jordan and five with Kobe.
How many championships could Pat Riley and LeBron James win as coach and player?
Jackson was tossed into the shark tank with similar players that grasped the concept of that superior killer instinct and ability to be their team’s primary offensive giant.
Jordan and Bryant are more alike than people are ready to admit, and Jackson was able to take what he had learned from coaching Jordan to mold Bryant into the second-coming that we see him as today.
However, LeBron James does not mirror Michael Jordan’s image. Besides the instinct in the fourth quarter that his opposition says he readily lacks, James is so much more well-rounded than just being a scorer. Not to knock Jordan for being a stallion offensively, but James is responsible for a lot more than Jordan was with the Chicago Bulls.
James is more of a reflection of Magic Johnson. Why not have the same man who coached Magic to four championships coach James as well?
Not only did Riley coach Magic Johnson, but he also coached Johnson as a part of the "Big Three" in Los Angeles along with James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
During an interview last season on ESPN in which Magic questioned Pat Riley about the state of the new-look Miami Heat franchise, Riley addressed the reaction from the press and fans to the Miami Heat’s loss to the Boston Celtics:
Well, I’ve got the scars and the wounds, you know, from the all the years from the Lakers, the Knicks and the Miami Heat. So, I don’t react to the press that is over the top. You know I read it like everybody else does.
People today will say something about a player that we would never say back in the '70s or '80s because we have respect. They will have an opinion about a player and not knowing one day that they might meet them in the hallway. What kind of respect is that?
Riley shows in this response and throughout the entire interview with his former player that he maintains that old-school mentality that LeBron James so feverishly needs. James needs a coach that knows how necessary it is to be his coach as well as his ally, just as the dynamic Riley created between him and the Lakers’ core of superstars during the '80s.
He has the battle wounds of rigorously defending his franchises' regular-season failures or even postseason shortcomings, only to come out on top a champion on four separate occasions with the Lakers.
Riley understands how the times and the pressure from the media have changed from the '70s and '80s in comparison to today, but he handles himself with so much finesse and in such a poised manner that he could outcoach coach Spoelstra with his eyes closed.
This is not to discredit Spoelstra in any way. He did well last year under the fire and brimstone hurled in his direction after the Miami Heat did not immediately deliver on their multiple-championship promise.
He led a newly composed team to the 2011 NBA Finals and unfortunately walked away empty-handed.
However, you have a proven coach of superstars in Pat Riley, and, most importantly, he has coached a player of similar caliber and style to the most valuable player on the team, LeBron James.
Pat Riley, as a coach, was able to bring out the best consistently in James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, most importantly, Magic Johnson.
Joye Pruitt is a Miami Heat Featured Columnist with a Twitter presence @JoyetheWar.