When Pat Riley coached the New York Knicks basketball team, journalist Pete Hamill listed him in a Thanksgiving column as “one of the things New Yorkers should be grateful for.” Riley now coaches the Miami Heat and is a motivational speaker. He is the author of The Winner Within.
When I was about nine years old, my father told my brothers to take me down to Lincoln Heights to start me playing basketball. I really didn’t want to play basketball. I thought I was too young, and I was interested in other things.
They took me down, threw me in the gates, and I got beat up. [Every day] I’d run home crying and hide in the garage. My father would ask my brothers how I was playing and my brothers would say, “He’s doing fine,” even though I wasn’t.
One day after a couple of weeks of going down to Lincoln Heights, I was hiding in the garage and at around six o’clock at night I saw my father walk out of the back door of the house. It was dark and I could see his silhouette lit by the house lights. You talk about a nine-year-old boy being scared, when your father’s coming toward you in the garage, and you think that you’ve made a fool of yourself because you didn’t want to play the game. He came over and picked me up, brushed me off, and pushed me into the house.
He sat down and was very quiet. I can remember my older brother Lee begging, “Why do you make us take him down there?” I remember that whine. “He doesn’t want to be there. Every day we take him down there he gets beat up, he runs home, he doesn’t want to play. Why don’t we wait awhile?” My father stood up and said, “The reason why I want you to take him down there is because I want you to teach him not to be afraid, and that competition simply brings out the very best and the very worst.” Then he looked at me and said, “Pat, you’ve got to go back. You cannot stay in the garage, you’ve got to go back.” And I went back.
What, to me, the Irish are all about is tremendous pride, a great work ethic, and a great discipline that comes from that. I sense it in Chuck Daly, I sense it in Mike Dunleavy, and in other coaches I have known in the past who are of Irish descent. Born out of that Irish upbringing, too, are just values. The values of doing right, knowing the difference between right and wrong; it’s very simple, very cut-and-dried. – July / August 1995 ♦