CORAL GABLES, Fla.—So much of this Pat Riley has shared before, drawing from his rich experience as a player, coach and executive in—to borrow a phrase he used again Thursday—"the toy department of human affairs."
But something happened last June that altered the Miami Heat president's public presentations, something that was familiar to the University of Miami graduates, and the families and friends of those graduates, who packed the BankUnited Center for commencement.
So after he recycled his old joke about getting lost in the women's bathroom, after he congratulated the new graduates and their supporters, he referred to the video highlights that showed on the big screen during his introduction.
They were of the 2013 NBA Finals.
"You've got to make sure that you never ever, ever, ever, ever give up," Riley said, to applause. "Ever give up. And if there was ever a time for the Miami Heat last year to give up, was in Game 6."
Riley reminded the audience—most one-third his age—that the Heat trailed by five with 28.2 seconds left. Then he referenced Malcolm Gladwell's books, Outliers and The Tipping Point, in which Gladwell wrote of the need to practice a skill for 10,000 hours, and how that work can tip an outcome to the other side.
Riley spoke of the initial failure of a missed shot, and of how that led to Chris Bosh doing something he had done plenty of times previously (grab a rebound), and Ray Allen backpedaling to the three-point line blindly, "not even knowing where he's going to be landing," strictly by habit and instinct.
"Repetition, repetition, 10,000 times, 10,000 times," Riley said. "Ray Allen lands on his feet behind the three-point line, perfectly on his toes, catches the ball and raises in the air. He has done that hundreds of thousands of times. And in the moment of truth, where you are going to be caught yourself—and you hope you get caught yourself in the 10, 20, 30 years—you'll be caught in this moment of truth. You're going to have to rely on that repetition; you're going to have to rely on that point where you can really make a change.
"So it comes down to whether you're going to make or miss in life. When Ray Allen raised on that shot, he knew that he had done everything he needed to do in a 16-year career."
Riley spoke of that audience "living and dying on what was going to happen."
"And the ball went in," Riley said.
Riley related some of his favorite stories about the ways his father Lee ("the greatest gift that I ever had, the greatest coach that I ever had") toughened him up when he was a meek kid growing up in Schenectady, New York. He relayed the advice his father gave him ("Somewhere, someplace, sometime, you're going to have to plant your feet, you're going to stand firm, and you're having to make a point about who you are, where you come from and what you believe in"), advice that the Dolphins borrowed as a motivational tool before their win over the Patriots last Sunday.
Riley then told another pet tale, this one borrowed from a book he read, about parents and mentors needing to nudge their kids out of the nest, so those kids can discover their wings.
"There are those who flap and flap and flap their wings, and they get it, they get it, they've been listening, they're educated, they get it," Riley said. "And they are those who flap and flap and flap, and they drop to the bottom."
He continued: "You've got to fly. You can't be afraid to fail to the bottom of the canyon."
From there, his voice rose and, in the final 10 of his 28 minutes, the maxims came fast and furious.
"You want something in your life to matter or count. We all do. Even though I say that I work in the toy department of human affairs, basketball, to me for 46 years, mattered and counted. Winning and losing for me was like winning and misery. It mattered and counted."
"A person's greatest fear is their fear of extinction, but what they should fear more than that is to one day become extinct with insignificance," Riley said. "You don't want that. You don't merely want to be considered just the best of the best; you want to be considered the only ones who do what you do. There's nothing wrong in that. There's nothing wrong with separating yourself from the pack. There's nothing wrong with leaving footprints. There's nothing wrong with being great."
Riley spoke of having dreams.
"There isn't a day in my life that I haven't dreamt about winning," he said.
He told the graduates to do the same, to try to make their marks.
"You've got to get them to call your name!" he said. "Somewhere, you're going to have to get somebody to call your name, and you're going to have take some risks along the way."
He told the graduates not to fear the worst.
"I've lost a lot of games in my life," Riley said. "A lot of games. ... Losing is going to be as much a part of the equation as winning is, but you've got to understand there's no failure. The only failure on the part of any individual is your failure to rise again."
The way the Heat rose last June.
Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.