“It was funny, but you can turn it into motivation because those are the things and moments you tend to remember — not so much the games. When guys say they’re hanging out on the bus with the fellas and having a good time, that speech was pretty much the poster child of that.”
Battier delivers the comedic speeches, Wade wears the clownish clothes and Bosh provides the quirky “photo-bomb” gags, but James is the fountainhead of the funhouse. Like the victories, the personality of the team begins with its leader.
Yet even a leader of James’ lighthearted luminosity must be given freedom to shine. The Heat’s coach has done that. Spoelstra has learned a lot from the master, but a clone of Pat Riley he is not.
Spoelstra can be formulaic and dry during his postgame news conferences, but it was the Heat’s coach that made the last-minute call to remain in Toronto for the Super Bowl. The suit and tie that sits at a dais after home games and fields questions from reporters is a different man in the locker room.
Spoelstra and Riley understand that a good coach gets the best out of his players. In any sport at any level, that’s the mark of greatness. At a fundamental level, the link between Spoelstra and Riley begins and ends there.
Does that Harlem Shake video happen with Riley in charge? Would James be allowed to put on a nightly dunk contest with Riley on the bench? You think the team stays over in Toronto for the Super Bowl with Riley calling the shots? Does Battier deliver that speech with Riley sitting at the front of the team bus?
The answer to all those questions is probably not. That’s not a knock on Riley but rather a testament to his vision. The winning streak began in Toronto on Feb. 3 and on Sunday it can hit 22 at Air Canada Centre and tie the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the second-longest run in NBA history.
Perfectly, poetically, Battier was on that team, too. Prophetically, here’s what he said back on Feb. 4 about that detour to the sports bar for the Super Bowl:
“I’d like to think it was a team-bonding activity that will propel us to bigger heights. It was one of the best team days I have had in the NBA. It was one of the best days I have had as a pro socially with my teammates.”
Now there’s a speech worth remembering.