Rise up shepherd, rise up
Your flock has roamed far from the hills
The stars have faded, the sky is still
The angels are shouting “Glory Hallelujah”
Pat Riley is always scouring books and music and life for inspirations, but there is nowhere he finds more joy than in the pit in front of the stage at a Bruce Springsteen concert. Riley calls Springsteen his “pastoral, rock-n-roll spiritual advisor,” so the Miami Heat’s Boss has trailed The Boss all over the globe, attending dozens of his concerts and spending time with Springsteen backstage, just two old immortals crossing paths during their life-long searches for meaning and truth. Riley quotes Springsteen in notes he gives his players and employees, so someone knew to play Springsteen’s “The Rising” for him in the swaying arena as soon as his Heat had vanquished the Celtics, and Riley raised an arm and shook a fist like he does in that pit. On Sunday, as he prepared for yet another team party, Riley was busy having Springsteen’s “Rocky Ground” put over a video montage of this Heat season, and damn if the tears didn’t sneak up on him for the first time.
“I didn’t cry during the game or celebration, not like I’ve done in the past,” Riley says. “It would always be when I saw my wife or my children or a player or a player’s wife or someone I knew cared as much as I did. This time, though, I was just numb. Numb from happiness. I almost lost it a little bit in the locker room when I was with LeBron [James] because of what he has been through. But listening to On Rocky Ground from this new Wrecking Ball album, it is what we have been through, our journey, and it made me emotional.”
His team covered so much rocky ground before finally becoming the wrecking ball. Riley remained mostly silent during the turbulence as the media fired his young coach again and again and traded his players and delighted in questioning his blueprint with unrelenting and unholy noise. Us-against-the-world is a tired athletic cliche, but there has rarely ever been a team that embodied it the way this one did, the critics and doubters not imaginary or invented for motivation but rather loud and lapping against the locker-room doors in wave after unrelenting wave for two straight seasons.
“There were two flash points the media jumped on,” Riley says. “The Decision and The Celebration. They just hung on to that for a couple of years. If it wasn’t that, it would have been something else. They would have fabricated something else. Jealousy and resentment are one thing, but when you envy what someone does, you have to look at yourself as a person. When someone else does something good, you envy them because that’s what you’d like to have. There was a lot of that in all the negativity. I told Spo early on, ‘Get used to this. Jump on and get used to this if you are going to be a coach in the modern generation.’ ”
Forty days and nights of rain have washed this land
Jesus said the money changers in this temple will not stand
Find your flock, get them to higher ground
Flood waters rising and the kingdom’s on fire
Riley likes the storm. Needs it. He is truly terrible at being satisfied. He doesn’t trust the calm. He wants the water rising and the kingdom on fire, and he’ll make it so even as everyone is floating and feeling safe, especially if everyone is floating and feeling safe.