Riley remembers it vividly.
“He looked at me, I looked back at him for a pause and he just sort of said, ‘I’ll see you later,’ ” said Riley, the Hall of Fame coach and now president of the Miami Heat. “I’ll never forget it. That was the last time I saw him.”
The National Basketball Coaches Association selected Riley as this year’s recipient of the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, which commemorates the former Detroit coach’s life in basketball and his “standard of integrity, competitive excellence and tireless promotion” of the game.
Riley has been part of the NBA for more than 40 years, with 1,210 wins and 21 playoff appearances as a head coach, a slew of charitable undertakings in Miami, Los Angeles and New York — and his team often speaks to how much they enjoy simply being around him.
“Well, for us as a team, he means a lot,” Heat forward LeBron James said. “You know, he put together this team, and we just look at his resume. We look at his experience either as a player, as a coach or as an executive. He’s done some great things.”
The award comes with perhaps extra significance this year, with so much attention on the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team — the team of NBA stars that went to the 1992 Olympics and won a gold medal, with Daly leading the way as the coach.
“I think the perspective was very clear what that team was and what that team was about,” Riley said. “He had absolute confidence being around these types of players.”
Riley’s team has some challenges these days as well, of course.
The Heat are back in the finals for the second straight year — and in a touch of irony, Rick Carlisle, who coached the Dallas Mavericks to last year’s championship against Miami, is the president of the association. Carlisle was among the group that selected Riley as this year’s Daly award recipient.
Daly was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer early in 2009, and his condition rapidly diminished. He spent much of his final weeks and months around friends and family in South Florida - and Riley often made the hour-or-so drive to better get to know the man he spent so many years coaching against.
“We spoke a lot about how we were brought up and why we were so fortunate to do what we do for so long,” Riley said.
At Daly’s funeral in Tequesta, Fla., in 2009, Riley was moved to tears. Many of Daly’s best Pistons were there — Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and Vinnie Johnson were pallbearers. And Carlisle, who was an assistant under Daly, attended as well, even though his Mavericks had a playoff game that night in Denver. Carlisle said missing the funeral was just not an option. He made it to the game in plenty of time.
That’s how much Daly meant to people.
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