Miami Heat fans saw club president Pat Riley’s most revealing and at times emotional side Sunday evening in the series premiere of ESPN’s “The Art Of Conversation With Dan Le Batard” show.
An intimate portrait of the life and career of the basketball icon kicked off the series of six long-form interviews a year, one every other month. The next of the 30-minute shows will feature Mike Tyson. LeBatard, the longtime former Miami Herald columnist who stars on ESPN Radio’s Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz and on TV’s Highly Questionable, chose Riley for his new venture’s first episode “because I’ve covered him for two decades, admire him, and trusted he’d show me a side the public hasn’t seen.”
And Riley did.
We saw his collection of 12 vintage automobiles, watched him renew vows with his wife, heard him speak of his bleak upbringing and relationship with his parents, and saw him fight back tears as he remembered his only daughter’s wedding day.
Interspersed with the personal stuff, of course, was the basketball side of the Hall of Famer who has been a part of nine NBA championships as a player, coach or executive — including Miami’s three in 2006, 2012 and 2013.
Notable for Heat fans, Riley, who turns 74 in March, not only said he isn’t thinking retirement, but that he envisions another championship parade along Biscayne Boulevard.
“I don’t believe in retirement. I believe in what’s next,” Riley said in the interview, wearing a Heat ‘Culture’ T-shirt. “You gotta look forward to something besides laying on your ass. At my age you gotta have something to chase. I’m still chasing another championship with Erik [Spoelstra] and with Micky [Arison] and with the team. How we’re gonna get there I don’t know. But we’re gonna get there again one day. I believe that.”
In an earlier released short trailer for the interview Riley said he “saw a dynasty fly out the window” when LeBron James left. That wasn’t included in the televised interview, but here are highlights from what was on the show:
(*) Riley called the 1985 Lakers his favorite championship team (sorry, Heat fans), because L.A. beats the Celtics after losing to Boston (“A team we hated”) the year before.
(*) He said his parents, Marty and Lee, never attended any of his games to watch him play. Le Batard asked which game he’d have most liked his folks to see. “Any game,” answered Riley.
(*) The Heat president names all of his classic cars. The red 1950 Mercury that he bought from Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top is named Marilyn. Another, he calls The Bad Apple.
(*) Riley said he wore hand-me-downs in a money-was-tight upbringing. He had one pair of khaki pants. he dried them inn the oven. Once, he left them in too long and there were grill marks on the back side. He had to wear them to school. Not much ribbing, though. Riley was a tough kid adept with his fists.
(*) He called his time with the Knicks (in between the Lakers and Miami) “a fiasco.” There were death threats. “From the time I left ‘til the time I went back (as Heat coach to Madison Square Garden) ) for the first time was one of the worst times of my life publicly.”
(*) Riley spoke of recently renewing his vows in Hawaii with Chris, his wife of 48 years. It was a birthday party, then suddenly the guests all dispersed for the surprise. One of her best friends came out and put a veil on her. “The husband: “I, Pat, once again take Chris to be my best friend. I look forward to waking you with a smile and holding you when you cry.” His bride: “I Chris take this crazy, passionate, eccentric man to be my husband again.”
(*) Riley fought back tears in recalling seeing his only daughter in a weeddding dress for the first time.
(*) After the Heart’s 1999 playoff ouster by the Knicks, “I almost quit,” Riley said. “’I was broken.” He wept in afterward in his office. It was Alonzo Mourning who told Riley he needed to buck up, address the team and close the season.
The Sunday premiere of “The Art Of Conversation with Dan Le Batard” was the portrait of two Pat Rileys.
One is the grateful, reflective man who says, “I’ve had a great trip. I have been so lucky and so blessed.”
The other is a Heat president not ready for the past tense and determined in the chase for another championship.