As if the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat didn’t hate each another enough, we’ve got an official “f*ck you” out of the deal now from someone not named Kevin Garnett. That’s exactly what Pat Riley directed to Boston’s Danny Ainge after the Celts president called it “embarrassing” for LeBron James to complain about officiating following Wednesday’s streak-ending loss to Chicago.
“Danny Ainge needs to shut the f*ck up and manage his own team. He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing and I know that because I coached against him,” said Riley via a Heat spokesman. Yes, Riley told Ainge to STFU. And, yes, he delivered the word through one of the team’s official mouthpieces. Imagine your boss asking you to do the same?
With word traveling fast, Ainge quickly responded with an elaborate response of his own. “I stand by what I said. That’s all. I don’t care about Pat Riley. He can say whatever he wants. I don’t want to mess up his Armani suits and all that hair goop. It would be way too expensive for me,” said Ainge. “Pat Riley’s right. I should manage my own team. I complained a lot to the officials. And I’m right, LeBron should be embarrassed about how he complains about the calls he gets.”
For a league many describe as too buddy-buddy and lacking the same intensity as yesteryear, consider Boston/Miami the red-headed stepchild of present day NBA rivalries, basketball’s version of Steelers/Ravens in a sense. However, Riley’s a chess player through it all. There’s no doubt Pat was pissed and intended to show loyalty to his players, something he’s done for years.* But as Brian Windhorst notes, Riley’s strategic move was about protecting his team’s investment off the court as much as on it.
With the summer of 2014 looming and the questions of will LeBron stay or go picking up more steam as the weeks go by, every decision by management counts. It’s the reason why Riley came to Dwyane Wade’s defense following a groin stomping incident with Ramon Sessons in Charlotte, suffering a one-game suspension for his actions. And now it’s the reason Riley’s hurling four-letter bombs at Danny Ainge. The fouls in the Chicago game were physical, but none were inflicted with any intended harm. It was Bron being Bron, Bron being pissed Heat’s streak ended to a rival and a superstar being a superstar.
Nevermind that physical play is what defined Riley’s Knicks teams of the ’90s. The Heat exec’s well aware what’s at stake here. If LeBron stays, the basketball universe will continue to revolve around Wet Willie’s, Collins Avenue and King of Diamonds. If James takes his talents elsewhere, the Heat fall back into the middle of the pack in terms of relevancy. Riley’s showing loyalty and support in hopes that LBJ pays it back.
On the other hand, Ainge is well aware players complain and the phenomenon isn’t anything new. During Ralph Sampson’s rookie season, head coach Bill Fitch went to the press to vent frustrations about the lack of calls his all-world center was afforded. Favorable treatment for Michael Jordan was as common a discussion as his game winners during the ’90s; Charles Oakley once outright admitted, “Who made the league shine in their careers, Michael Jordan or Patrick Ewing? No question it was Michael Jordan. He’s the best player to ever play, but he got more calls. I know I was in a couple situations where I didn’t foul at all and they called fouls.”
Had it not been for Magic Johnson’s complaints to Jerry Buss about Paul Westhead, the “Showtime” Lakers may have never existed. During the 1984 Finals, Riley called Larry Bird and the Celtics thugs in hopes the referees would take notice. Hell, the flagrant foul was implemented half-in-part because of Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and the Bulls damn near setting the league office on fire because of the beatings Detroit were inflicting upon them. Ainge was on the court in an era when playing came with its bumps and bruises, nearly as much as bitching and moaning.
So, I get it. Both presidents’ choice quotes are chess moves to a game that stretches beyond one game or even this season. If it means making an already hated rivalry even more despicable and must-see-TV-worthy, then yeah. F*ck you, too, Danny Ainge.
* – I remember watching Magic Johnson’s “The Announcement” when Magic said when he was attempting to make a comeback following his HIV announcement, Pat Riley had him working out in MSG where he was coaching the Knicks at the time. Pat didn’t care about what the media’s thought process. He knew Magic and he wanted Magic. Johnson, to this day, has never forgotten that loyalty shown to him.