This isn’t fair. Other NBA teams should file a grievance. The Heat can offer prospective free agents a reigning championship team, a surrounding All-Star Big 3 led by the best basketball player on Earth, and a resort city famed for its nightlife. And then they bring in The Closer, Pat Riley, whose résumé and force of personality seems to work on players the way Sean Connery’s gaze worked on women in 1960s James Bond films.
Best team, best players, South Beach, LeBron James, Riley — who needs money!
Miami had hardly anything to spend in free agency this year and still somehow signed a 10-time All-Star in three-point record-holder Ray Allen and another star-pedigree player and former maximum-contract guy in versatile 6-10 Rashard Lewis.
Both men accepted much less money than they were offered by other teams and agreed to a role off the bench simply to be part of this special thing that Riley has built.
“You mean I’m not starting?” joked Allen when reminded he plays the same position as Dwyane Wade.
The architect parries the credit, of course. Riley interrupted during Wednesday’s arena news conference introducing the Heat’s two newest players when Lewis was asked what it is the Heat’s club president says behind closed doors that is so alluring.
“Let me answer that,” Riley said wryly. “I mention LeBron, Chris [Bosh] and Dwyane and they take it from there. We have built a team players want to play for.”
Economics once ruled NBA free agency. Players followed the biggest contract offer. Now players follow the scent of other talent and of championships, not money.
What Riley can offer — better teammates and a better shot at a ring than other teams — was all the sales pitch Lewis needed after 14 seasons without a parade.
“Obviously, I’m hungry just to win a championship,” Lewis said.
It was more than that for Allen, who won a ring with Boston.
Riley made him feel wanted — needed — in a way that the Celtics did not, even though the money offer could not reflect that.
Boston had tried to trade Allen during the All-Star break, demoted his role and last week signed his replacement, Jason Terry, even as Allen weighed whether to leave. Clearly, Celtics fans calling Allen a traitor might consider it was Boston whose actions showed him the door.
Miami, in contrast, wooed Allen as if he were the biggest free agent in the NBA. James and Wade lobbied and showed love with calls and texts and Tweets. Coach Erik Spoelstra outlined a major role and significant minutes.
And then The Closer did his thing. Anyone who has been in Riley’s company has been mesmerized by a philosopher in coach’s clothes. He doesn’t so much speak as enlighten. A reporter interviewing Riley is tempted to simply transcribe what he says verbatim because, as a colleague of mine says, “He speaks better than I write.”
“Just a very disarming guy,” Allen described the experience of meeting Riley during his visit here late last week. “This was my first time really sitting down with an opportunity to swap stories with him. He’s a guy after my own heart. We probably talked four or five hours that day, and I took a lot from it.”
They talked basketball, talked movies. Riley gave Allen a book, The Four Agreements, an inspirational in which author Don Miguel Ruiz discusses steps on the path to personal freedom, to a life “filled with grace, peace and unconditional love.”