Riley has won so many championships. He lured James initially by dropping all of his rings in front of him. Where does this one rank?
“There is a damn novella with all of them,” he says. “Every one of them is a book — different characters, story lines, dramas, ups and downs. This was the most difficult, though, because, for two years, you simply couldn’t live a normal life. Your professional life affected every part of your normal life. You had to win. There wasn’t a choice. There was just desperation. It had an impact on all of us. Live and die every night because we wanted it so much for this city and these players. Any line of work, any job, one of the things we desperately need from work beyond food and a roof over our heads is self-esteem. Work is the place you get recognition. You develop a community, a network, your own nation where you live. But it is work. And we’ve been through incredible adversity from the outside.”
Did you ever doubt?
“No,” he said.
That doesn’t sound very human.
“I had my concerns,” he said. “It is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. You never know you are going to win the championship until you win it. But I felt like we had a hell of a team.”
You use your muscle and your mind and you pray your best
That your best is good enough, the Lord will do the rest
You raise your children and you teach them to walk straight and sure
You pray that hard times, hard times, come no more
You try to sleep, you toss and turn, the bottom's dropping out
Where you once had faith now there's only doubt
You pray for guidance, only silence now meets your prayers
The morning breaks, you awake but no one's there
They’ve been through a lot together over a decade, Riley and Wade. Wade was taking student loans for diapers at Marquette, and he did a lot of his growing up here, taking pride in being a Dad even while going through a messy and public divorce. Funny thing about that 2003 draft. Riley was going to take Bosh. But the Heat fell a draft spot by winning the last game of a meaningless regular season, Toronto took Bosh, Miami had to “settle” for Wade, and Riley would have them both soon enough. Wade bringing Bosh to Riley.
Riley helped teach Wade to walk so straight and sure that, in 2006, as Riley called plays, Wade improvised, doing whatever the hell he wanted so often en route to the championship, that Riley finally threw up his hands and asked him in a huddle, “How can I help you? Tell me how I can help.” Wade won that championship, and he has been so grateful for how this organization and city has treated him over the last decade that he brought James and Bosh here instead of bolting for his hometown of Chicago when free agency beckoned.
Riley was completely unsurprised that Wade decided earlier this season to finally defer to James with uncommon self-awareness for a star. The Van Gundys say that the hardest thing to coach is an aging superstar because the mirror so often lies to them, but Riley says he didn’t even have to nudge Wade out of James’ way. That kind of decision had to be made by Wade himself for it to come without resentment.
“What Dwyane did was normal for him,” Riley says. “He didn’t have anything to lose. He’s got skin in the game, and he’s had it for a long time. He is one of the most beloved players in the history of this city. He’s invested. He’s gotten all the pats on the back and awards and money and fame. It is easier to serve your teammate who hasn’t gotten the one thing he wants. When you do that, in the end, you are going to be the winner, too. Whatever he gave up, because the team needed it, it is one of the great things that great team players do. Magic did that all the time, gave up his game for someone else. What Dwyane did came very naturally to him. It wasn’t a pain to him. He’s smart enough to know what was needed.”