Pat Riley loves his past players, welcomes them, celebrates them, even overlooks any distant disputes and oversells their Heat time to a fault, if you find fault in that. The Heat’s Godfather, so ruthless in the moment, is a romantic about yesterday.
So when Riley announced Chris Bosh’s No. 1 jersey was being retired, the purist police rushed to point out Bosh’s six Heat years and third-fiddle status on The Big Three didn’t merit the reward. Which they don’t. They can’t.
That misses the necessary point, too. This isn’t just a jersey retirement for Bosh’s great Heat run. It’s a night for all those nights he never got. It’s an olive branch to brush away any rancor made when the Heat effectively retired him for his own benefit.
Bosh’s jersey retirement is also, in some form, a nod to LeBron James. Riley, at 72, prefers to tie up loose ends and err on the side of celebration even if that means overlooking ugly details.
But time will allow what happened in that Vegas exit interview between Riley and LeBron to stay in Vegas. Five more years? Ten more? No. 6 goes in the rafters, if No. 1 is. (Dwyane Wade’s No. 3 is a given.)
If Riley is guilty of anything besides being a romantic with yesterday, it’s a desire to microwave history in the Heat rafters. Gordon Hayward said the history of the Boston Celtics meant something in his decision. Believe it if you want. The current Celtics swayed him much more, no doubt.
But Riley is so loose with retiring numbers that Bosh might be the most deserving jersey retiring for the Heat after Alonzo Mourning. Michael Jordan’s Bulls jersey is in the rafters, for whatever reason. So is Dan Marino’s Dolphins jersey.
If Bosh’s six years with two rings defies traditional standards, then so did Tim Hardaway’s six Heat years with no rings and Shaquille O’Neal’s 3 1/2 seasons with one ring.
What’s the bar for jersey retirings? It’s the Supreme Court judge’s definition of obscenity: You know it when you see it.
But South Florida has been anything but typical in this department. The Marlins retired No. 5 in honor of the first team president, Carl Barger, who died before the expansion team took the field. But, true to odd franchise form, when rookie Logan Morrison requested to wear No. 5, team owner Jeffrey Loria un-retired the number. Why? Because Loria could.
The Dolphins have an understood bar for retiring jerseys: The Hall of Fame. You make it, your jersey gets retired. But it’s not always that simple. Larry Csonka twice left the team in a divorce. Once, when he was the lead train with Paul Warfield and Jim Kiick to the World Football League to break up the dynasty of the early-1970s. Again, after 1979, when he left in a contract huff.
Dan Dowd, the equipment manager, refused to give out Csonka’s No. 39 to any player. Some asked. “Not available,” Dowd told them. Dowd’s successors, Bobby Monica and Tony Egues, did the same. And so it went until Csonka’s number was retired in 2002.
Jason Taylor will go into Canton this summer. Retiring his No. 99 won’t be far off. But it’s interesting no Dolphin player has worn Zach Thomas’ No. 54 since he left in 2007. He’s getting the Csonka treatment.
Bosh will go in basketball’s Hall of Fame. He had the game, the mind, the money and seemingly the future to be master of his universe. But he also had the kind of misfortune the Greek playwrights saddled onto tragic heroes. His Achilles was blood clots.
It stopped his career, changed his life, threw him into an uncomfortable dispute with the Heat and then the entire NBA over whether he was healthy enough to play. In the end, he lost — or he won, depending on how you view it.
He didn’t have a health tragedy on the court, he has $52 million more coming to him and he now gets the kind of good-bye his exit never allowed. His No. 1 goes to the rafters. It’s really simple why. Riley, the old softy, says so.