Phil Jackson took a shot at old rival Pat Riley in an ESPN interview released Monday morning, raising questions and sharing his thoughts as to how the Heat lost both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in free agency over the last couple seasons.
Jackson, who had a longstanding rivalry with Riley when he was coaching the Chicago Bulls and Riley was coaching the New York Knicks, was initially asked by ESPN senior writer Jackie McMullen to comment on another rival, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, and then pivoted to take a swipe at the Heat’s team president.
Here’s the Q&A Jackson had with McMullen:
McMullen: You, Popovich and Pat Riley are the most decorated coaches of your generation. What separates Riley?
Jackson: “Pat has a terrific sense of what he wants to do. Now that I’m president, I have to read all this stuff about the league. Usually it’s ‘delete, delete, delete.’ But I noticed there was something about D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] and Pat’s communication breaking down the other day. I wondered about that. I found it surprising.”
McMullen: It all started when LeBron left, right? Could you have ever imagined Earvin Johnson leaving Riley, or Michael Jordan leaving you?
Jackson: “It had to hurt when they lost LeBron. That was definitely a slap in the face. But there were a lot of little things that came out of that. When LeBron was playing with the Heat, they went to Cleveland and he wanted to spend the night. They don’t do overnights. Teams just don’t. So now [coach Erik] Spoelstra has to text Riley and say, ‘What do I do in this situation?’ And Pat, who has iron-fist rules, answers, ‘You are on the plane, you are with this team.’ You can’t hold up the whole team because you and your mom and your posse want to spend an extra night in Cleveland.
“I always thought Pat had this really nice vibe with his guys. But something happened there where it broke down. I do know LeBron likes special treatment. He needs things his way.”
For what it’s worth, Riley, 71, has said repeatedly since Wade decided to return home to Chicago this summer he regretted not becoming more involved in communicating with him. Riley has said owner Micky Arison handled the negotiations with Wade each of the past two summers.
On Thursday, though, Riley told TNT’s David Aldridge he regretted not signing Wade to a maximum contract in 2014.
“Riley told me before the game that, if he had to do it over again, in the summer of 2014, after LeBron James left and went back to Cleveland, we should have given Wade a max deal as well as Chris Bosh, as the team did,” David Aldridge said in a sideline report during last Thursday’s Heat-Bulls game. “Riley told me, ‘That was wrong. I should have, we should have given him that. That’s a big second-guess, but that’s on me.’”
It will be interesting to see when and how Riley fires back at Jackson, who has had his own issue as the Knicks team president.