Pat Riley’s Greatest Ally? “That Damned Ocean Breeze”
I grew up in South Florida. After spending my formative years here, there are certain things you take for granted. Things that only become prevalent when you move from the warm bosom that is the tri-county area.
In 1999, I attended the University of Florida in Gainesville. Myself and other students from “The Crib” (our nickname for Broward and Dade Counties), lamented the lack of an ocean breeze in the muggy confines of Central Florida.
We understood little of the crushing heat that came with a landlocked southern city. Lessons that later were reinforced by my time spent in cities like Atlanta, Charlotte and Lafayette, LA.
I moved my family to Lafayette for a promotion and a pay increase. Solid reasons to uproot a life spent in paradise, sure, but a decision I would soon come to regret. As my family and I languished in an unfamiliar swampland – struggled to understand the local vernacular and became familiar with savory Cajun cuisine – I started to finally understand the pull and appeal of South Florida.
Months of cold and rainy winters and hot, muggy summers did not agree with this homeboy from Coral Springs. And finally, after years of denying it, I understood that South Florida was my home and I really wasn’t built for anywhere else.
It’s why it’s no surprise to me that time after time when all things are equal, 30-something-year-old basketball players continue to choose Miami as a destination, even when more desirable on-court situations present themselves.
It’s why Joe Johnson, after more than a decade traveling around the country playing for a winter league, chooses the Miami Heat over more championship-ready teams like the Thunder and Cavaliers.
Why Beno Udrih, in what is probably an attempt to ingratiate himself with the Miami brain trust, accepted a buyout offer that presents few advantages to the veteran point guard. Udrih wants to come back to Miami in the offseason, and that is obvious. So he does what he’s asked, with a wink and a nod and an understanding that, through sacrifice, paradise awaits.
And that is the main selling point, isn’t it? Yes, the Miami Heat is seen as a first class franchise, with a first rate owner and the legend of Pat Riley presiding over it all. Yes, it has a championship history and a reputation for savvy moves that consistently showcase a competitive product.
But all of that is predicated on the mere fact that Riley and Micky Arison have built their empire on a foundation of sand and saltwater. The appeal of the bouncing basketball is congruous with the appeal of the bouncing bosoms in the first row.
Maybe that is the genius of Riley. After years of Los Angeles Showtime and New York Grit, he’s found the happy medium. An international city, without the media pressures of a metropolis. A tropical paradise without the artificial façade of Hollywood. Miami is Rick Ross, but it’s also Pit Bull. Miami is Udonis Haslem but it’s also Dwyane Wade. A gorgeous backdrop for a silver tongued devil to paint a masterpiece.
Yes, Riley is a master motivator, Andy Ellisburg is a cap maestro and Erik Spoelstra is a tactical genius. But Miami’s biggest draw is outside of the AmericanAirlines Arena’s offices, down Biscayne Blvd. and across the bridge. It’s that damned ocean breeze. And only those of us from The Crib would understand.