CEBU CITY, Philippines — Patrick Riley, the flamboyant President of Miami Heat had successfully channeled his chi to his protegee, the well-loved Fil-Am bench tactician Erik Spoelstra. The Heat advancing to the NBA Finals came as surprise as Miami was never on the radar of basketball pundits to reach this far.
Credits to Riley, whose fingerprints were all over The Bubble when the 6th seed Miami swept Indiana Pacers in the 1st round, booted top-seed Milwaukee Bucks in five in the semifinals and eliminated the 3rd seed Boston Celtics in six games of the Eastern Conference Finals to reach the NBA Finals.
This is only the 6th appearance of Miami in the Finals, five of which has Spoelstra calling the shots while LA will make its 32nd appearance.
By the way, Spoelstra started working for the Heat in 1995 as a video coordinator and rose to the ranks to become a head coach, handpicked by Riley to replace him when he steps down as a coach in 2009.
Spo, as basketball fanatics call him, had his first taste of the NBA Finals during the reign of the “Big 3” – LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in 2011. Miami reached the Finals three more times. Won the 2012 and 2013 titles, before LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2015. The Cavs made the NBA Finals for four straight years while winning its first major sports title in 2016, for the city since 1964.
James’ comeback to Cleveland did not bode well on Riley. LeBron’s departure messed up his 10-year plan for Miami. A beautiful plan that could have won Miami 5 or 6 championships. LeBron’s move angered Riley deeply. However, Riley’s rage and caustic words became The King’s” resolved to rise higher and led the Cavaliers to unprecedented heights.
While Pat’s hate on LeBron thickens through the years, let’s not forget that Riley also had an ax to grind against the Lakers.
Riley has played for LA from 1970-1975 and won the championship in ’72. After retiring in 1976 in Phoenix jersey, Pat returned to LA as a broadcaster for the Lakers in ’77 and became an assistant coach in 1979.
In 1981 he was elevated as head coach replacing Paul Westhead. Riley was the architect of the “Showtime Lakers,” that won four championships (1982, 1984, 1987, 1988).
The Lakers were primed to win a three-peat but were swept by the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons in the 1989 Finals. At that moment, Riley’s relationship with the Lakers started to get sour. Despite winning 63 games the following season, Riley stepped down after an upset loss to Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals.
A week prior to their elimination, Magic Johnson called a “players-only meeting” that triggered the heated clash between Riley and General Manager Jerry West. The Lakers did not honor Riley’s choice replacement, Randy Pfund, instead named Mike Dunleavy as a successor.
Years gone by, Riley’s had openly expressed a “sentimental desire” to return to the Lakers as an executive, instead, the job was given
to Johnson. Johnson then went out of his limbs and lured James to play for the Lakers.
Beating the Lakers in the Finals would bring Pat’s revenge plot on James and the Lakers into fruition. But it’s a mountain to climb. Statistically, the Lakers have better numbers, have deeper bench, more skilled, taller and bigger players, and have a more collective individual experience.
Indeed, the Lakers are heavy favorites to win the championship since the hunger to win championships still dwells in LeBron’s system and so too with Danny Green, Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo, Markieff Morris, and Dwight Howard.
Aside from James, the other LA players who had a championship to boot are Danny Green (San Antonio 2014, Toronto 2019), Rajon Rondo (Celtics 2008), Javale McGee (GSW 2017, 2018), Quinn Cook (GSW 2018), and JR Smith (Cleveland 2016). While only Andrei Igoudala (GSW.2015, 2017, 2018) and Udonis Hasleem (Miami 2006, 2012, 2013) had championship experience for Miami.
Coaching wise Spoelstra has the edge over Frank Vogel but as a BronSexual, I will bet all my marbles to the Lakers. Say Lakers in (conservatively) in 6.