Pat Riley left the Lakers in 1990 seeking greater control. Riley left the Knicks in 1995 seeking greater control.

Riley’s protégé in Miami, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, apparently doesn’t hold similar ambitions.

SiriusXM NBA Radio:

“I love being part of this game.”

🔊@MiamiHEAT Head Coach Erik Spoelstra tells @TheJaxShow and @RickKamlaSports about his passion for coaching the Miami Heat. #HeatTwitter

— SiriusXM NBA Radio (@SiriusXMNBA) April 3, 2020


I love working for this franchise. I feel a great sense of purpose for that, to be able to carry on, be a caretaker of this culture that I did not create. This was Micky and Pat created this culture. And some people might think they need to venture out on their own to create their own image or whatever. I do not have any of those kind of feelings. I feel a sense of purpose by carrying this culture on and this legacy to future teams. And it’s what I enjoy. It’s what fills my cup up. So, I just want to keep this going as long as I can. I just love being a part of this association. I love being part of this team. I grew up in an NBA family, and it doesn’t feel like a job. I’m motivated every day to show up and try to add value to the organization, add value to all the guys in the locker room.

Heat owner Micky Arison has empowered Riley, which has allowed Riley to empower Spoelstra. Spoelstra worked his way up from Miami’s video coordinator to head coach. Now, Spoelstra is tied with the Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle for the NBA’s second-longest active coaching tenure (12 seasons), behind only the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich.

Spoelstra has grown into one of the NBA’s finest coaches. He adapts to different styles. He connects with players of all statures. He develops young players. He communicates clearly. He makes sound adjustments in the playoffs.

That rise wouldn’t have happened everywhere. Spoelstra inherited a strong culture that Riley built. In just Spoelstra’s third season, LeBron James subtly urged Riley to take over on the bench. Many executives would’ve appeased the superstar. Riley backed Spoelstra, and Spoelstra won over LeBron then coached the Heat to multiple championships. Spoelstra needed and got time to work through growing pains. He’s an even better coach for it.

But he still works in Riley’s shadow in Miami.

Riley built a Hall of Fame resume in Los Angeles and New York. Riley drafted Dwyane Wade, traded for Shaquille O’Neal and coached the Heat to the 2006 title. Riley executed a grand vision to form a big three of LeBron, Wade and Bosh – a group that won two more titles in Miami.

Riley also groomed and empowered Spoelstra. Their relationship has been and continues to be extremely mutually beneficial.

Ambition and envy often derail these partnerships. Messages wear thin. Even if they want to stay on a job, NBA coaches exist to be fired.

Spoelstra sounds intent on being an exception with the Heat.

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