By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — We’ll be breaking down the Celtics-Heat matchup in the very near future, with the two teams set to square off in the Eastern Conference Finals starting Tuesday night. But for now, let’s focus on a feud away from the court between the two figureheads of both franchises.
Of course we’re talking about the scintillating bad blood between Danny Ainge and Pat Riley. These guys really don’t like each other, and are not afraid to discuss that disdain. This feud means very little toward how the upcoming series will play out, but it’s always fun to see the vitriol between two of the NBA’s smartest and wisest architects.
Riley detests Ainge for his antics throughout his playing career. Ainge abhors Riley for a litany of reasons, stemming from his playing days and his time as an executive for the Celtics. And really, it isn’t hard for Boston fans to find reasons to dislike Riley, whether it’s because of his association with the Lakers (both as a player or as a coach) or his smug know-it-all attitude as both a head coach and executive. Riley also has a much easier time pitching Miami to free agents than Ainge does Boston, though it didn’t work in Riley’s favor when they both went after Gordon Hayward three years ago.
The Ainge-Riley beef has been going strong since the 1980s when Ainge was playing for the Celtics and Riley was coaching the L.A. Lakers. The franchises met in the finals three times during Ainge’s time with the Celtics, with the Lakers taking two of them. Ainge was a spark plug of a player, the kind of guy you loved if he was on your team and hated if he wasn’t.
The hatred reached new levels in the 1990s when Ainge was playing in Phoenix. Ainge’s Suns had a brawl with Riley’s New York Knicks during the 1993 season, a melee they both participated in and got booted for.
Riley ripped his pants in the fracas, ruining what was likely a very expensive suit.
A decade later, Ainge took over as the Celtics president of basketball ops., and though it took him another 10 years to really ruffle Riley’s feathers, Ainge had a new avenue to fuel their feud. Ainge’s Celtics and Riley’s Miami Heat met three times in the postseason to start the 2010s. The Celtics won their first-round matchup in 2010, before LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and took the next two postseason meetings.
The Heat won a second-round matchup with the Celtics in five games in 2011-12, before taking a heated seven-game classic in the Eastern Conference Finals the following year. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs ended the run by Boston’s Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen Big 3, and Riley had even more to do with that in the offseason.
That summer, Riley signed Allen away from the Celtics, a move that has thrown that lovable trio into utter dysfunction now that their playing days are over. Not only did Riley end their time together, but he started to deteriorate their legacy. What was once a tight-knit group known best for “Ubuntu” now seems like a pack of bickering middle schoolers.
The following season, Ainge made some comments about James during an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub, saying it was embarrassing that LeBron would complain to officials during a regular season loss. Riley didn’t appreciate Ainge’s take on the situation, which opened the floodgates for the Heat executirve to vioce his true feelings on Ainge.
“Danny Ainge needs to shut the f–- up and manage his own team,” said Riley. “He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing, and I know that because I coached against him.”
Ainge had a retort of his own, zeroing in on Riley’s famous wardrobe.
“I don’t care about Pat Riley. He can say whatever he wants,” said Ainge. “I don’t want to mess up his Armani suits and all that hair goop. It would be way too expensive for me.”
Damn. You know Ainge means business when he goes after Riley’s closet.
It’s unlikely we’ll see the two share a death stare during this series, as Ainge is not in the Orlando bubble. But if the two teams engage in another intense playoff series, we may get a few vehement insults thrown back and forth between during their media appearances. Without a few of those, it really wouldn’t feel like a true Celtics-Heat playoff series.