Winning Is Everything
I'll be rooting for the Heat tonight, no doubt. But a part of me is still gonna be pissed about Stan Van Gundy. And if you've been reading sports columnist Dave Hyde's commentary in the Sun-Sentinel throughout these playoffs, you've probably noticed that as the Heat's success grows, he's become more and more sychophantic of Pat Riley. Hyde's reptilian theory (which he shares with a lot of other elite sports brains): Since Riley made it to the Finals, he has been thoroughly vindicated for his personnel changes in the off-season and the loss of Stan Van Gundy early in the season.
After Miami closed out Detroit, Hyde wrote: "It was Riley's vindication, too. Between the offseason moves and in-season return to coaching, he became a target this season. Friday's scoreboard proves him right. It gives the only necessary answer."
The only necessary answer. Success and dominance is the sole judge of whether someone is right or wrong. By that horrific standard, TV producers are great no matter what kind of crap they come up with -- so long as the ratings are there. Make suburban housewives lap up camel feces out of the bowels of a rotting jackal? Hey, people LOVE it! It's a great show.
You can take it a step further. The World Trade Center collapsing was all we needed to see to know that Osama bin Laden was on the mark all along. George W. Bush's election in 2004 proves that the Iraq War was a good move. Adolph Hitler's rise to power proved in 1930s Germany that anti-Semitism really was a great idea.
I'm not comparing Riley to Hitler or bin Laden or Bush (they're in a category all their own), but I'm not going to say that the coach is vindicated either. Riley abandoned Van Gundy, but not in Hyde's revisionist world. He's been aggressively selling the fiction that Van Gundy really did quit his job coaching two of the greatest basketball players on Earth so he could spend time with his teenaged kids.
In his column Monday, Hyde wrote a glowing peaen to Riley that included this sentence: "But he didn't want to return to coach this year, a fact even Stan Van Gundy's brother, Jeff, has said nationally."
Then on Wednesday, Hyde, in obnoxious and unfunny fashion, cited 50 ways that Heat doubters were wrong. No. 7: "Riley fired Stan Van Gundy."
Hyde's love of Riley and his new Success-brand deodorant is causing the columnist to distort the "facts." First of all, Jeff Van Gundy is bitter as all hell at the way his brother Stan was treated. Read this story by the Palm Beach Post's Chris Perkins to get a taste of Jeff's anger. He doesn't like Riley, doesn't root for the Heat, and feels the organization shafted his bro. Does that sound like vindication for Riley? Yes, he did say that the decision was his brother's to quit. But that doesn't mean Stan -- who did a magnificent job as coach and would have almost surely been in the Finals last year were it not for a fluke injury to Wade -- wasn't run off the team.
Riley undercut Stan by hinting in the off-season that he would coach. Then he didn't publicly back the coach. With Alonzo Mourning pining publicly for his old coach, Riley, to return, the writing was on the wall. And Riley, the only man who could have ended all the speculation, stayed quiet on the sidelines waiting to take over the team. So Stan stepped down. And, on the day Riley took over, he sure as hell sounded like he wanted to coach.
"Right now, at this moment, I'm the best person," he said at that charade of a press conference.
Look, I think Riley is doing a good job right now as coach. And I have a natural affinity for him since we're both University of Kentucky guys (I was sports editor there when Rick Pitino was coaching the Cats). But I'll never think of him the same way after I saw what he did to Stan Van Gundy. And he's still doing it. The Heat has put a veritable gag order on the former coach. When was the last time you saw the guy? The Heat knows it acted shamefully and they're keeping their shame locked up and put away.
And what about those personnel changes. Riley traded most of the supporting players for a new set that included Antoine Walker and Jason Williams. The team played listlessly during much of the season and basically cruised to a 52-30 record -- seven games worse than last season. That's two weeks worth of extra losses. They went from an elite team to a pretty good team during the regular season.
Does the fact that this team couldn't muster any passion -- for themselves or the fans -- count for nothing? Is the fact that most Heat fans have absolutely no emotional connection to most players on the team irrelevent? Does the fact that this team slept-walked until the playoffs, falling short against the best teams again and again, mean we should all be happy?
Hey, they're winning. So the popular answer is yes, yes, and yes. But the truth is that the brunt of the months-long regular season sucked because a bunch of strangers were playing together. Now they're coming together because they covet the ring. It's not exactly an inspiring and heart-warming team here, people. It's a cold fish, a bunch of pros driven to mount something on their walls.
Other than Dwyane Wade, that is. He's sensational. Truly great. And I'll tell you this. I could win with D-Wade and Shaq. Just like I could have won with Magic Johnson and Kareem. Or Michael Jordan in his prime. Everybody knows coaches are way over-rated in the NBA, including Riley. But what does Hyde write? "[Riley] has been proven so right about this Heat team -- right about his bold personnel moves, right about Shaquille O'Neal, still right about Dwyane Wade -- that he really is the main reason if the Heat wins."
Read today's column by the Miami Herald's Greg Cote -- who seems to actually be an intelligent, sentient being -- if you want to see how it really worked.
Look, no matter how daft and wrong-headed any sports columnist can be, it doesn't change the fact that Riley is a good, if flawed, coach. And, like I said, I'll be rooting for him and his team in these Finals. I can't help it. I'm part of the culture now, for better or worse.
So, um, go Heat.