Five quick-hitting Miami Heat items in advance of the 2014 NBA Finals:
1. Pat Riley's hair is silver these days.
His signature book nearly is, too.
The Winner Within: A Life Plan for Team Players was first published in 1993, making it four years short of a silver anniversary. It was written after he left Los Angeles, where he had won one championship as a player, one as an assistant coach and four as a head coach. It had come before he took the New York Knicks within a John Starks meltdown of a Broadway parade, and before he built the Miami Heat into a contender and—after plenty of setbacks—ultimately a power.
In December, after the Miami Dolphins posted a quote from the book as inspiration for a victory, Riley admitted something that he doesn't often in public: that he's still quite proud of the work. And while he declined a Bleacher Report interview that week, one intended to draw his insights about its relevance today, that doesn't mean we can't review a few of its core tenets, considering how they apply to his team's rematch with the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals.
Riles' Rule on Style sounds like something LeBron James, and the Spurs as a whole, have mastered:
The biggest battle on a pro court is the one between style and efficiency. A particular shot or way of moving the ball can be a player's personal signature, but efficiency of performance is what wins the game for the team. Style can juice the player and stir the crowd, but it must never overwhelm the fundamental goal of playing the game and winning.
Riles' Rule of Declaration is what seems to separate these two organizations from so many others of late (certainly it separated the Heat from the Indiana Pacers):
There are only two options regarding the commitment to a Core Covenant. You're either IN or you're OUT. There's no such thing as life in-between.
Riles' Rule of Entitlement certainly struck a chord this regular season, as it applied to the Heat's inconsistent effort:
When a milestone is conquered, the subtle erosion called entitlement begins its consuming grind. The team regards its greatness as a trait and a right. Halfhearted effort becomes habit and saps a champion's strength. Players who feel entitled to greatness should cherish their memories, tend to their pension, and read retirement brochures. Because that's all the game can offer them.
The book's Rule of Respect stands out in light of the high esteem in which these organizations, and their players, hold each other, and the way that Gregg Popovich (an unabashed admirer of LeBron James) dared James to beat the Spurs with his jumper time in the last Finals:
Sometimes you have to respect your competition so much that you treat them with no respect at all. You have to defeat a great player's aura more than his game.
Then there's Riles' Rule of Finishing Without Being Finished.
This one is dangerous for the Heat, because it's a principle the Spurs have proven they fully understand. Riley wrote about this rule in the context of June 12, 1984, which for Riley—prior to the 1994 NBA Finals and the Heat's late 1990s first-round flops—was "still the most vivid example of misery that I've ever experienced. It arrived in the final 13 seconds of Game 7 of the NBA Finals, against Boston on their home floor." In that game, Riley's Lakers whittled a 14-point deficit to three, only to fritter away the chance inside the steamy Boston Garden.
But even that couldn't have compared to the horror that the Spurs endured inside AmericanAirlines Arena last June, when they lost after leading by three with 5.2 seconds left in regulation in Game 6, and when leading by one after the third quarter of Game 7.
So, here's that rule:
You have no choice about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again.
After that loss to the Celtics, the Lakers experienced what Riley calls The Breakthrough, a chapter in the book that he introduced with a quote from Henry David Thoreau that "men die of fright and live of confidence." The Lakers rode that confidence to a six-game elimination of the Celtics, which still stands as one of the only times that the Finals loser has come back and beaten the Finals winner the very next year, with the Pistons of 1988-89 being the last team to accomplish the feat (against the Lakers).
The Spurs have rebounded remarkably, prepared correctly and refilled their heads and hearts with confidence.
So what can be Riley's counter?
How about Riles' Rule for Raising the Stakes:
Coaches who let a championship team back off from becoming a dynasty are cowards. But if you raise the ante, make sure you are flush with resources and drive. You'll have to be prepared to wager the team's total wherewithal—and yours too—to win dynasty stakes.
Riley raised the stakes when he guaranteed, while soaked with champagne after the Lakers' 1987 championship, that the Lakers would repeat. And they did.
Now Erik Spoelstra has a chance to do something Riley—for all his copyrighting—never did as a coach:
And Spoelstra can benefit from his mentor's guidance, not only in person, but in print.
The Winner Within is one of the few books he keeps on his desk, in his office, at the arena.
"When I first got to Miami in '95, I read it that summer," Spoelstra told Bleacher Report earlier this season. "And, honestly, it didn't resonate. I read through it, I didn't really take notes. I just was at a point in my life and my career, it was too far ahead. I re-read it not this summer, the summer before, while I was in Maui. I brought it with me, I don't even know why. And I read it in a day and a half. And my whole book is all red-marked everywhere, and earmarked on every other page. And I couldn't believe it. It was like reading a totally different book. It was amazing. It was fascinating. It was amazing to see the correlations."
Spoelstra explained that it's one reason Riley is one of the few people he leans on.
"Because not many people really can relate," Spoelstra said. "He went through it. It's from a generation before. But it's interesting to see that change of faces, change of teams, change of times and the challenges are very similar."
2. Ray Allen always has an answer.
Years ago, people would frequently ask him whether he would take his shooting skills to a team that was winning titles.
"And I was like, 'If I could be so lucky,'" said Allen, now 38. "Because you don't just start at the beginning of the year and you pick a team that you think can win it all and you just go to that team. You don't just snap your fingers and it happens that way. You've got to assimilate yourself to a team and really build into what they're doing, and help them win and get better."
Allen has done that over the past two seasons.
Now he's experienced half of the Heat's four Eastern Conference championships in succession.
"I mean, two is like, you feel so privileged," Allen said. "It's never an entitlement. You don't wake up and you just show up at the NBA Finals.... Thinking about four: unprecedented."
Not exactly, but certainly uncommon, with no team doing so since the 1984-87 Boston Celtics. Those teams included the guy who acquired Allen for Boston (Danny Ainge) and the guy Allen's Heat just eliminated (current Pacers president Larry Bird).
That would seem to put the accomplishment in its proper context.
But Allen actually went outside of the NBA for a comparison.
"I grew up watching John Elway get there and come up empty, and then he finally won them," Allen said. "I think he went to four of them, right? 2-2."
Actually, he went to five.
The first three were in 1987, 1988 and 1990.
The Broncos lost by a combined 96 points.
"And as a kid, I always felt bad for him because he never won, and I always rooted for him," Allen said. "So, as a kid, I remember him always being in that championship game. And I didn't realize how great of an accomplishment it was for him to just get there, and then to win a game. That's why when he finally won, I was happy for him."
That came in 1998, in his fourth try, even if it wasn't Elway's best performance.
Elway repeated in 1999—and that time earned the Super Bowl MVP.
But even he, with the flare for the comeback, never did anything that topped this.
3. Shane Battier has played 147 minutes in the Heat's 15 playoff games, and there's no guarantee he'll be part of the regular rotation in the NBA Finals— though it seems likely that, if the resurgent Rashard Lewis starts, Battier will be the first "stretch 4" off the bench.
That means, depending on the length of the series, Battier is likely somewhere between 30 and 100 minutes away from the rest of his life.
"Make 'em count," Battier said. "Make 'em all count. Make every last minute count."
Battier was flooded with opportunities for once he concludes his playing career, receiving preliminary inquiries from the Michigan Democratic committee (for a potential Senate run) and the Detroit Pistons (for a front office position). And, as first reported by The Big Lead, he ultimately settled on broadcasting, signing a long-term contract to serve as an ESPN college basketball analyst.
Battier preferred not to discuss the new gig following Monday's practice, because he wants to give the NBA Finals his proper attention. As he should. After reaching the second round just twice in total with Memphis and Houston, he has a chance to win three straight championships to cement his NBA legacy.
"It's awesome," Battier said. "It's awesome. This is it. Take a deep breath, and drink it all in, every second of it. I'm going to work my ass off until the very end, and walk away knowing I gave it my all and be able to live with the outcome."
It will be hard to top what happened in the last NBA Finals, when he shook off a DNP-CD in Game 7 against Indiana in the East Finals (which he called "the lowest moment of my career"), worked his way back into the rotation and made 11-of-18 three-pointers in the postseason's final three games.
4. LeBron James has spent much of the postseason sharing his positions on disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, sometimes without much prompting.
With more pressing matters on his mind prior to Game 6 against Indiana, James wasn't much in the mood to weigh in on Shelly Sterling's sale of the Clippers to former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer.
But he did acknowledge, with a laugh, that when he saw the $2 billion price, "That was a reaction for sure."
James didn't want to discuss whether it was something that could come up at the next collective bargaining negotiations, with the players allowed to opt out of the current deal following the 2016-17 season.
Yet, to borrow from James' lingo, there will be repercussions, for sure.
The sales price of the second-tier franchise in Los Angeles, which nearly quadrupled the previous record—set by the sales of the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014 and the Washington Wizards in 2010—will lead to one thing for sure, according to one Heat player speaking on background:
In the next negotiation, players are likely to demand either a bigger piece than 50 percent of the BRI (Basketball Related Income) pie, or for more to be included in that pie. The latter could mean some kind of surcharge from franchise sales that goes into the total, divisible pot. It also means that, in the interim, owners will have a more difficult time justifying cost-cutting measures based on luxury tax penalties, as players point to the increasing value of their franchises.
While it's impossible to know what every team is worth, it's now clear that the annual Forbes study of franchise values, often dismissed as overly optimistic by league owners, actually undershot considerably when it came to the Clippers and Bucks.
Battier, who won't be around to benefit from any increases in the players' cut, seemed to be a good place to get a balanced assessment of the situation.
He viewed it as "a good lesson in theoretical economics."
"With the thought of the last recession on our minds, there is concern that there is a bubble," he said. "Then again, the valuation of NBA franchises is a very mysterious and almost esoteric number. What is a franchise really worth? The market says, in L.A., $2 billion. Is the market efficient? I don't know if anybody knows the answer to that question. That's the question, is the market efficient?"
Well, that's one question.
The other question is whether the players have the right to reap the rewards.
"Yeah, that's always been an issue that's been swept under the rug, because owners take that money out of the pool, and say that's no concern of the players," Battier said. "I think broadcast rights will be a bigger issue for us, versus the valuation of franchises. But it's an issue. And it's an issue that needs to be discussed. Do the players have a part in creating value for a franchise? Or is it inherently of demographics, and locations, and media reach? It's a discussion that should be had and hashed out."
It will be.
5. Greg Oden and Michael Beasley, the Heat's two celebrated reclamation projects, have combined to play 11 minutes, and score two points, in the playoffs.
It isn't especially likely that those numbers will double in the series to come.
Still, in light of Oden's injuries and Beasley's troubles, it was something of a victory for both simply to stick around all season. And they were both smiling plenty at the Heat's generally subdued Eastern Conference championship celebration, with Oden getting the trophy from Heat owner Micky Arison and beaming with pride.
So maybe he'll also take some pride in this bit of trivia.
If the Heat win a championship, the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 will become only the fourth member of that draft class—after No. 7 overall Corey Brewer and second-rounders Gabe Pruitt and Glen Davis—to be part of a championship team. Yes, before Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Joakim Noah and a host of others.
(If the Spurs win, No. 18 Marco Belinelli and No. 28 Tiago Splitter will get on the board.)
As for Beasley, he would become just the second player in the 2008 class to get a ring, before Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Brook Lopez and former Timberwolves teammate Kevin Love, with the latter still trying to make the postseason for the first time.
The first to get a ring?
Beasley's good friend, Mario Chalmers, who has two.
Some might say that Beasley and Oden didn't earn it.
If so, former top-five picks—and champions—Eddy Curry, Adam Morrison and Darko Milicic would like a minute of your time.... to make up for those their coaches didn't give them.
Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @EthanJSkolnick.
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