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.”
Riley and Daly were rivals as coaches, eventually became close friends and now they’re linked once again. 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 is the fifth person to receive the award, joining Tommy Heinsohn in 2009, Jack Ramsay and Tex Winter in 2010 and Lenny Wilkens in 2011.
“This is not an award,” Riley said. “This is something somebody bestows on you. I’m very honored that the coaches association would do this.”
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.
“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. … Any insight that he gives you, he’s giving it because of experience. He knows all about it. He’s won at the highest level multiple times.”
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, tremendous confidence challenged them in such a way that I don’t think anybody else could have challenged them.”
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 north to see Daly and spend time with the man he spent so many years coaching against.