At the top of his game: Pat Riley defied the odds to build a championship team

Getting your name called

People often carry lessons learned in childhood with them into their adult lives and careers. For Riley, the experience that most resonates came as a 9-year-old growing up in Schnenectady, N.Y.

Riley wasn’t into sports, but his father — a former minor league baseball player and coach — told Pat’s brothers to take him down to the local basketball court.

“Every single day I was bullied. I was put on the sidelines and never selected to go back into a game,” Riley says.

Every day for a couple of weeks, he would go home and hide in the garage before dinner. One day, his dad walked into the garage, grabbed him and pushed him into the house.

“He did not say a word to me. It’s a seminal moment in my life that has been etched into my mind about where it all starts for an individual in business or wherever,” Riley says.

Then his dad said the words he’s never forgotten — “You’ve got to make them call your name, Pat.” Riley says his dad’s insistence that he fight his fear, go back and compete is a lesson he’s carried with him throughout his career.

“So that’s what I have been doing the last 40 years as a president and a coach is to try to let people know that, in spite of the rings I have and the residual rewards of what that brought me, I had a father that taught me to plant my feet, hold firm and make a statement about who I am,” Riley says.

He continues to try to get people to make somebody call their name, and says that approach works as long as you’re sincere.

“If you’re a leader of some young company, your sincerity is going to be taken in great trust if you let that person know that you want what is in their best interests. You’ve got to be able to teach them, because everyone wants to be taught,” Riley says.

Defying gravity

In the business world, everyone is always trying to figure out how to go above and beyond. That involves defying gravity, defying the odds, Riley says.

One gravity-defying feat for the Miami Heat occurred in the final 28.2 seconds of Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs.

“We’ve all been in that situation — 28.2 seconds, down five in a Game 6 and the other end is already celebrating. They think they’ve got a world championship,” Riley says.

The Spurs went from being up 94-89 and taking the series to blowing the lead, going into overtime and ultimately losing the game and series to the Heat.

Everyone talks about the details and planning that go into building a successful company, he says. Things like how you lead, and what are the company’s core values.

Riley says that Miami media asked him when he arrived in town about the team’s identity.

“We are the hardest-working, best conditioned, most professional, unselfish, toughest, nastiest and probably most disliked team in the NBA,” he says.

The disliked part isn’t a goal, but it comes with success, he says.