Heat Nation

How Pat Riley Lost the Respect of Players and Fans Alike

Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade

Loyalty is a fickle thing in sports. Always expected, never fulfilled. For the longest time, Miami Heat fans could proudly claim their franchise as the exception to that rule.

“We’re Heat Lifers. We don’t have to deal with the business side of sports. Pat Riley takes care of that. He’s the Godfather,” we would sing praises.

Looks like those days over.

Riley lost some of this fanbase’s trust when he decided to let his ego run wild this offseason. Chasing whales as desperately as Captain Ahab, Riley, to put it bluntly, made a fool of himself. He sailed up the eastern seaboard hoping to pounce on Kevin Durant in the Hamptons. But Riley “throwing his rings on the table” doesn’t have the same effect on players who aren’t disgruntled by their current employers.

Let’s look at that for a second. Why is Riley so feared and respected by general managers around the league?

“Oh, well he’s pulled off some of the greatest free agent coups of all time,” is the normal response.

Has he really, though? He’s never stolen a player from a team they didn’t want to leave from. Shaquille O’Neal had his well-chronicled beef with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James couldn’t trust upper management to give him any help, even as recently as last year, Goran Dragic was publicly asking to be traded.

In the most recent case, Durant was already on a championship contender with great upper management. Riley had no shot going in and wasted precious days at the onset of free agency.

While Riley was keen on nabbing himself a whale, he forgot about the one that has been with him in South Beach since 2003. Dwyane Wade is still a whale, man! He proved it again this year, especially in the playoffs. He’s not going to average 30 a night but how many people in the NBA can single-handedly win you a seven-game series. You can count them on one hand and Wade is one of those people.

So while Riley was off wandering aimlessly on Micky Arison‘s boat in Hudson Bay, Wade was getting more and more impatient. He was implicitly being told to wait his turn — again. This time, the Heat just assumed Wade would wait again. He had done it for more than a decade, why would this year be different.

Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley

“Riley didn’t even pick up the phone to call Wade when free agency began.”

Well, it was.

You have to remember that superstars have big egos. It’s one of the reasons they’re so great. It allows them to rise to the occasion because they have to believe they are bigger than any one person can be. And an ego as proud as Wade’s can only take so many shots before enough is enough.

However, as a fan, the most infuriating part about losing Wade isn’t that he won’t be playing in a Heat uniform next year; it’s how he left. Disgruntled and disrespected was not how Wade was supposed to leave South Florida, if at all. After watching the #KB20 (Kobe Bryant’s going-away campaign) parade span out over the last season, Heat fans may have had a similar vision for Wade. When the time came, he would get the loudest “thank you” of all from fans at American Airlines Arena. Even though he will still be cheered when he comes back and cheered even louder when he retires, it will be a bittersweet moment seeing him in a jersey that doesn’t have the word “Miami” written on the front.

From Riley’s perspective there was no way Wade was going to leave, right? He could’ve just kept asking him to take pay cuts and he’d be fine with it. And when he wasn’t — well he’s called the Godfather for a reason. He ensures tranquility in the family and when he says it’s time to go — you’re whacked. Riley didn’t even pick up the phone to call Wade when free agency began.

After it became clear, this conflict wasn’t about money, Riley could’ve at least tried to talk to Wade — soothe things over possibly. But it seems like Riley believed that with Wade on the roster for a $25 million price tag (what Wade was asking for), the Heat were going to be somewhat competitive, but not a title contender. That’s when the infamous championship-or-bust mentality of Riley kicked in and he decided that it was best for the Heat to pivot to an era without Wade.

Both Ethan Skolnick and Dan Le Batard of the Miami Herald expressed the sentiment that Wade would’ve been here if the Heat had wanted him to be here. They tried just hard enough to make it look like they wanted to keep him, but were ultimately okay with letting him go.

Pat Riley is a cutthroat bastard. There are very few people like him that could sever ties on a fruitful, 13-year marriage so quickly. However, Riley made it clear: he wouldn’t overextend the Heat for the sake of Wade. That’s all fine and dandy for any other player. But in the eyes of a fan, Wade did overextend himself for the Heat for 13 years. Both on the court, being the best player for over a decade, and in the size of checks, taking less than he deserved for far too long. To Riley, that may not be worth anything anymore, but to Heat Nation it means a whole lot.

Riley can no longer use the words “family” and “Heat Lifer” in persuading potential players to play for this organization. He lost that right when he quietly ushered Wade out the door.

So next time there is a whale swimming in the free-agency pool and the national media turns its attention to Miami, they may still lord over Riley’s aura and exemplary salesmanship, but they’ll have to take a step back this time. Because for every one of his coups, there will be the lone fact that he let his franchise player walk away like just another commoner.

Le Batard said it best in his special column for the Miami Herald, “Pat plays for championships, not No. 3 seeds.”

Well good luck Pat, because you won’t be playing for either one of those anytime soon. The sterling reputation of Riley is now scarred by the dark blemishes left by the scuff marks of Wade’s shoes as he walked out the door.

As for Wade, he has now found a new home — his original home. Chicago’s own has returned and left the sandy beaches of Miami. We will miss him when the season starts, cheer him when he returns, and revere his greatness for a very, very long time.

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