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Now, it’s official: Riley an NBA Hall of Famer

SHARE Now, it’s official: Riley an NBA Hall of Famer

MIAMI — Moments before entering the Hall of Fame, Pat Riley could barely control his emotions.

Here Riley stood, championship ring on his finger and eyes misting ever so slightly, speaking of the 16 coaches whose philosophies were shaped into what became a legendary NBA career. He spoke of his mother, his friends and his childhood growing up in a neat house on Spruce Street in Schenectady, N.Y., a few hundred feet from Central Park, where his dad — Riley's first, favorite and most formative coach — would drive his Dodge atop a hill on cold winter nights, sip a beer and hear the radio broadcast of his son's college games at Kentucky.

"With where I came from," Riley said that night, his voice hushed and cracking a bit, "who would have believed it?"

But this didn't occur in Springfield, where basketball's best get immortalized.

This was in 2000, when Schenectady High enshrined Riley in its Hall of Fame.

If something like that moved Riley so much, imagine, what will be pulsing through his bloodstream Friday night, when receives his game's highest honor — a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Riley is part of the class to be feted in Springfield, Mass., 100 miles east of his boyhood home, a distance close enough for the 63-year-old president of the Miami Heat and seven-time NBA champion to still feel like he's come full circle.

"They asked me for my speech a month ago, because they want to be able to train the cameras on certain people," Riley said. "I said, I don't know what I'm going to say and I won't know what I'm going to say until that day, probably. I've got an idea, but I've got to give it some thought. I don't think it's going to be profound. It's going to be very simple. This is about other people. It's not about me."

For Riley, it's about Magic Johnson and Jerry West, the two men who will present him at the induction. It's about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who lost two games in high school at Power Memorial, one of those being to a Linton High team led by Riley, who would later coach him with the Los Angeles Lakers. It's about Adolph Rupp and Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing and Dwyane Wade, Jerry Buss and Micky Arison.

They've all considered Riley a Hall of Famer for years.

Friday is merely formality.

"No question, it makes it official. It's like a wedding," Wade said. "You know what a common-law is? When you're with someone for so long, in common law, you're already married. But the wedding just makes it official. And that's what the Hall of Fame ceremony is for him. It's just going to make it official. But he's been Hall of Fame for many years to many different people."

More than anyone else, it's about Lee Riley, a minor-league baseball manager who died nearly four decades ago, yet is still the man his youngest son tries to emulate most.

"Pat's vision, Pat's wisdom, really, it started with his father," said Ed Maull, a Heat executive and one of Riley's closest friends.

Riley retired for the second — and he says final — time from coaching after this past season, when the Heat finished with the NBA's worst record, 15-67. But even a disaster like that couldn't knock much shine from Riley's resume, with 1,210 wins (third-most in league history), five championships as a head coach (one as an assistant and one as a player, too), and a sense of style all his own.

That may be what people remember most, the slicked hair, polished dress shoes and the perfect suits Riley donned.

And that came from Riley's father.

"My dad was dashing," Riley said. "I saw pictures of my father, he and mom when they got married in the '30s and how he dressed. One thing he always did was he had these wonderful Clark Gable-type suits on and bright red ties and starched shirts. He had a lot of style to him."

Beneath that was a toughness that comes from growing up in a place like Schenectady, the epitome of a blue-collar town.

Lee Riley cut a muscular, imposing figure, just like his son. Lee Riley had powerful forearms, like his son. Grace and athleticism and an edginess that made players love and hate and fear and respect them all at the same time, father and son both had all of that.

"We knew early on that he was a cut above, obviously," said Warren DeSantis, Riley's best friend from Schenectady. "He had this nasty competitive streak, every day. There were no easy workouts with Pat. Everything was serious. When he went to Kentucky, we said he'd be an All-American, and sure enough, he was. We said he'd play for a national title, sure enough, he did. We said he'd be drafted in the first round, and sure enough, he did that, too."

But who could have known one of the best coaches in any sport? All the fame and fortune and books and celebrity and success, all punctuated by a spot in the Hall of Fame that Riley says he considers religious ground?

Like Riley said that night eight years ago at his high school induction, who would have believed it?

"Did we think he'd be here? Probably not," DeSantis said. "Are we surprised? No."

There are many who play Riley as the villain, a man who's impossible to deal with, is overbearing and obnoxious and pompous. Those who have been around him the longest, though, insist that isn't close to the truth, and point to the fact that most people in the Heat basketball operations department — those who interact with Riley the most — never seem to leave the organization.

Maybe that's the best tribute to Riley's life in basketball.

"I'm fiercely loyal and I think these people are back at me," Riley said.

When all Heat employees were forced to take a 10 percent pay cut to get the organization's finances in line six years ago, Riley knew it would hit hard, especially those who weren't making much money to begin with. So after that season, when Miami made the second round of the NBA playoffs, Riley decreed that everyone in basketball operations would get a full playoff share, roughly a $20,000 bonus.

Some who opened those checks thought it was a joke. Quite the contrary, and Riley made it happen.

His role as president of the Heat is to rebuild a roster and try to restore what was a championship team in 2006. He wants to write another book, and also wants to commit time to a program he calls HomeStrong, which honors returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It's going to be a forever thing," Riley said.

So will his title: Basketball Hall of Famer.

"I feel like I've contributed something to the overall game of basketball, either with my persona or how I coached or the players that I produced, the organizations that I've been part of have all been, I think, very first-class organizations," Riley said. "So, yeah, it's an honor to have that link to your name. It is."