Retirement is no longer a distant notion to Heat coach Pat Riley
This is an article from the March 19, 2001 issue
Heat coach Pat Riley is content knowing that he will never match
the success he had in Los Angeles, where he won four
championships in nine seasons with the Lakers. Over the past
decade he has become the NBA's version of Paul McCartney dealing
with life after the Beatles. "Those were the best of times for
me, a great jump start to my career," Riley says, "but I don't
think about it anymore. As I get closer to the end--and I really
am getting closer--my thing is that I want to finish well."
For the first time since 1981-82, when he began to establish
himself as the dominant coach of the NBA's golden age--mentor of
Magic, nemesis of Larry and Michael--Riley insists that he finally
has his priorities straight. He understands the price he has paid
for his .693 winning percentage over 19 years. "My primary
problem my whole career has been guilt," he says. "Maybe it's my
Catholic upbringing. If I wasn't focusing on my job while I was
with my children at the beach, then I was shortchanging [the
team]. But I've got rid of all that angst."
Riley, who will turn 56 on March 20, has already begun looking at
retirement properties. He won't say where they are or when he
plans to retire to them. "I'm going to honor my contract," he
says of the five-year deal that runs through the 2004-05 season
and is worth at least $25 million, "but I don't have to coach
through that term. I can stay on as a consultant or team
president. I've never thought of being a consultant, but it
sounds pretty good. I could be in Nairobi and tell people, 'I'm
consulting for the Miami Heat. I've got my cell phone.'"
It's a reasonable guess that he will walk away after 2002-03,
when the only current players still under contract could be
forward Brian Grant and shooting guard Eddie Jones. Riley
acquired both of them last summer, along with forward Anthony
Mason, in a bold attempt to make a run at a title over the next
three years. Those plans were put on hold when doctors examining
center Alonzo Mourning before training camp diagnosed focal
glomerulosclerosis, a life-threatening kidney disorder.
It's as if Riley, after having so much success during the first
half of his career, has been doomed to an odyssey of frustration
ever since. His previous employers, the Knicks, took great
pleasure in destroying Riley's title hopes in each of the last
three postseasons. In the latest blow to the Heat, on March 5
Jones suffered a gruesomely dislocated left shoulder that will
sideline him for at least a month.
Last Friday, however, Riley was showing why Larry Bird idolized
him as a coach capable of adapting to all situations: The Heat
ran the Timberwolves off the court, 86-79, by playing an
up-tempo, frenetic style. "That's the best defense anyone has
played against us this year," said Minnesota coach Flip Saunders.
Despite the absence of Mourning and now Jones, Miami had the
third best record in the East at week's end (38-26). That's not
good enough for Riley. "This team has to prove it can be
competitive, really competitive, in the Eastern Conference, with
a chance to win a championship," he says.
Never mind the excuses: If this team doesn't show signs of
prosperity in April and May, Riley says he may wave goodbye this
summer to free agents Mason, Tim Hardaway, Bruce Bowen, Dan
Majerle and Anthony Carter. (On Monday he went so far as to send
Mason and center Duane Causwell home when they were late for a
team meeting in Minnesota.) Miami's $73.4 million payroll is the
league's third-highest, behind the Trail Blazers and the Knicks,
and Riley says he doesn't want to ask owner Mickey Arison to pay
the luxury tax next season unless the current group proves it can
contend, with or without Mourning. "Nobody should think he's
entitled to long-term security when we've been bounced from the
playoffs in the last three years," Riley says. "We may have to
build all over again this summer."
Still, Riley insists that winning another title isn't the
consuming goal it used to be, not after what Mourning has
endured. "Watching 'Zo beat this has inspired me more than
anything has inspired me ever," Riley says. When Riley told SI
last week that he would reserve a spot on the playoff roster for
Mourning, he was not predicting that the center would return by
then. Though Mourning is back up to his playing weight of 260
pounds and has been practicing with Miami's second unit, he
hasn't recovered his strength, and he has reportedly told
teammates he is unlikely to play this season. Riley's decision
was the equivalent of lighting a candle in the window--letting his
center know in no uncertain terms of the coach's faith that he
As he watches Mourning fight for his life, Riley says he realizes
basketball has become a short-term gig. He can commit himself to
each game knowing that he has only two or three more years to go.
"If I thought I would be doing this a long time, I would be
depressed," Riley says. "When I'm finished with this, I want to
spend the next 30 or 40 years on a sandy beach somewhere, and I
don't want to be sitting there worrying that the Knicks are going
to get me at the last minute."
Update: Women Referees
Confident and Comfortable
Late in the second quarter of a January game between the
Timberwolves and the Trail Blazers, referee Dee Kantner called a
foul on reserve swingman Todd Day for planting a knee in the back
of Portland guard Steve Smith. Day fixed Kantner with his best
Joe Pesci mafioso glare, to which Kantner calmly replied, "With
the body." Exasperated, Day shot back, "It's a body game!" But
before he could complain further he was benched.
Whereas once Kantner might have second-guessed herself on such a
call, she now brims with confidence. "You want to teach me that
it's a body game?" she says, stifling a laugh. "That's not news
to me. Posture all you want, it's not going to change the call."
A month after that encounter Day was no longer in the league,
waived by the Timberwolves. Female referees like Kantner, on the
other hand, appear to be in the NBA to stay.
It has been four years since Kantner and Violet Palmer joined the
62-person officiating crew as major pro sports' first female
officials. Both Kantner and Palmer say they are finally feeling
comfortable--or, as Palmer puts it, like "one of the guys." That
certainly wasn't how they felt in November 1997, when you'd have
thought the NBA was instituting a ban on PlayStations from the
indignant reaction of players to the distaff refs' arrival. Brian
Williams, a Pistons center at the time, called it "just more '90s
bull---- political correctness."
Others bemoaned the painful civility they feared would ensue, but
questions about players' verbal conduct were short-lived. "Oh,
that went out the window right away," says Palmer. "If a guy is
going to call [a man] an a------, he's going to call me an
a------. That was never an issue."
So, four seasons later, how are Palmer and Kantner being graded?
On the record, the majority of players and coaches say that both
refs have improved, especially their confidence. "It's not like
in the beginning, when they would take everything thrown at
them," says 76ers center Dikembe Mutombo. "Now, when you say
something, they look you in the face and make sure you don't take
Sixers coach Larry Brown, who had worried that a female presence
might change the dynamic of a game, agrees. "At first I was dead
set against it," he says. "I've seen tremendous improvement on
the part of both of them. I haven't felt uncomfortable, and I
haven't noticed our players uncomfortable in their behavior."
Off the record, though, the two women have their share of
critics. One Western Conference coach believes Palmer "has not
made the kind of progress that would tell me it's been a good
experiment for her. Her judgments aren't good, and she takes a
lot of heat." An Eastern Conference player put his opinion of
both refs a little more succinctly, saying, "Them mother------s
Palmer correctly points out that players and coaches say negative
things about refs all the time. "It's just that you read about it
with us because we're the women refs," she says.
Ed Rush, the league's supervisor of officials, doesn't merely
judge referees by how players and coaches react to them. "The
most important step for a referee is being accepted by your
co-workers," Rush says. "They're the ones out there with you, the
ones who break down tape with you, the ones who rely on you. The
best thing I can say about Dee and Violet is that their peers
totally accept them."
Despite the relative success of Kantner and Palmer, it's unlikely
that the league will soon add more female referees. Rush says
that of the "seven to 10" officials in line for a position (the
NBA adds about two a year), none are female, though once the
Development League starts this fall, Rush hopes to fill a quarter
of that league's 35 to 40 referee openings with women. From
there, Rush says, a talented female ref could make it to the NBA
in three to five years.
As for Kantner and Palmer, while they are still a few years from
working playoff games--those assignments usually don't come until
a referee has been in the league eight to 10 years--both are glad
to have moved beyond questions like, "Will butt-pats earn
technicals?" Says Blazers point guard Damon Stoudamire: "They're
no better but no worse than some of the male refs."
That's exactly what Kantner and Palmer had hoped to become: two
of the guys. --Chris Ballard
Minnesota's Felipe Lopez
In His Friend's Footsteps
Felipe Lopez had been following the path of Malik Sealy for more
than seven years, going back to the days when Sealy helped
recruit him to St. John's. "When I came into the league and
wasn't getting a lot of playing time, Malik told me to keep going
at it," says Lopez, the New York City high school legend who
finished as St. John's No. 3 alltime scorer, behind Sealy and
leader Chris Mullin. "He said my opportunity was going to come."
That opportunity came on Feb. 22, when Lopez was released by the
Wizards, who had to make room for the five players they acquired
in the eight-man trade of Juwan Howard to the Mavericks. Lopez
was picked up by the Timberwolves, who had been looking for help
at shooting guard since Sealy was killed in a car accident last
May. Because Minnesota has lost four first-round draft choices
over the next five years for its under-the-table signing of Joe
Smith, the team's best hope for developing talent is giving a
home to NBA nomads such as Lopez. A career 6.8-points-per-game
scorer who was taken in the first round of the 1998 draft by the
Spurs, he was shipped immediately to the Grizzlies and traded
last summer to the Wizards, for whom he started 38 games at small
forward and finally exhibited signs of blossoming.
The 6'5" Lopez, 26, showed he was capable of taking on Sealy's
former role as defensive stopper during Minnesota's 119-111
overtime victory against Seattle on March 4. He held Gary Payton
to four free throws in the final 6:51 as Minnesota made up a
10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Still, if Lopez wants to
earn regular minutes, he must learn to shoot the way Sealy did.
"Felipe has always had the ability to beat people off the
dribble, and when you're trying to establish yourself, you go
with your strengths," coach Flip Saunders says. "We want him to
develop the outside shot."
When Lopez walked into the Minnesota locker room, he saw his old
friend's locker, which has been encased in glass. "This is a new
beginning, and Malik is having everything to do with it," says
Lopez. "There is no way to replace him, but I want to make him
proud and have him look down on me with a smile."
Outside the Box Score
Tale of Two Forwards
While Derrick Coleman seems to hurt the Hornets' chances of
winning--at week's end they were 8-19 this season when he
played--backup forward Eddie Robinson is having the opposite
effect. Against the Central Division-leading Bucks last Saturday,
coach Paul Silas gave 17 minutes to the 6'9" Robinson, a
second-year man whose basket-attacking game (20 points, six
rebounds) helped Charlotte win 100-90 and move within three games
of Milwaukee. The victory also gave the Hornets a 3-1 series
lead, clinching the tiebreaker should the two teams have matching
records at the end of the season. With Coleman on the injured
list (strained left calf muscle), Charlotte had won nine of 10
games through Sunday.
For scores, schedules and stats, plus the latest news and
analysis from Phil Taylor and Marty Burns, go to
Around The Rim
BEWARE: the Lakers are putting on their postseason game faces.
No more squabbling. "We need each other," Shaquille O'Neal says
of Kobe Bryant. "I need him, he needs me, like Magic needed
Kareem." That's not the kind of talk their rivals like to hear....
How much do the Celtics rely on Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker?
During a remarkable 58-minute run covering three games last
week, Boston's co-captains were the only starting players to
score a point....
Over his 14-year career, point guard Mark Jackson has bought a
house in every city in which he's played--now five and counting.
He was about to close on the sale of his house in Indianapolis
last month when he learned that he would also have to put his
house in Toronto on the market. Fortunately, the Raptors
returned him to the Knicks, for whom he played his first five
seasons; he already owns a house in Saddle River, N.J. "I always
go to a place," Jackson admits, "and look at it like I'm going
to [stay] there."...
Through Sunday, Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki was within .4 of
a point of having the highest single-season NBA scoring average
by a European. The record of 22.3 was set in 1992-93 by Nets
guard Drazen Petrovic....
While peers marvel at the stability that Karl Malone and John
Stockton have brought to the Jazz, Bryon Russell is a fixture in
Utah as well. Not counting Malone and Stockton, only four active
players have been with one team longer than the 30-year-old
Russell, who is in his eighth season in Salt Lake City....
More evidence that points are sometimes the least of Kevin
Garnett's many contributions: At week's end the Timberwolves
were 7-3 when Garnett led them in assists and 18-4 when he
wasn't their leading scorer.
Clippers forward Cherokee Parks
"A lot of my stuff is old school: snakes, knives, panther heads,
skulls. Sailor Jerry stuff is in there, too--he was a famous
tattoo guy back in the day. Everybody makes noise about my
tattoos because I've got so much color in them. But plenty of
guys in the NBA have color in their ink. It's just that because
I'm a white guy, mine stand out more than theirs do."
"If Yao Ming, the 7'6" center from China, enters the draft, a lot
of people believe he'll go No. 1. The others with the most talent
seem to be Eddie Griffin, the 6'9" freshman from Seton Hall, and
Tyson Chandler, the 7'1" kid from Dominguez High [in Compton,
Calif.]. They're both Kevin Garnett types--tall and athletic, good
runners, jumpers, shot blockers. I know Griffin's been criticized
for not playing to his potential, but he's got the skills to be
even better as a pro; he's good enough one-on-one to play in the
NBA right now. Some of my colleagues think Chandler's a little
soft, but in a few years he could have more going for him than
Griffin. His frame can carry a lot of muscle, and he runs the
floor like David Robinson. Not many 7-footers have ever done