Pat Riley says Shaq was biggest Heat acquisition ever


Pat Riley says that acquiring the Hall of Fame bound Shaquille O’Neal changed the Miami Heat franchise forever.

Before the Big 3, before LeBron James announced his intention to take his talents to South Beach, before the Miami Heat won a single of their three championships, Pat Riley made the franchise-altering move of trading for Shaquille O’Neal.

In preparation for O’Neal induction to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Riley told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that Shaq was the biggest acquisition in Heat history.

"“I’ll say this, and I mean this,” Riley says during a relaxed moment this past week, “Shaq’s acquisition was bigger than any acquisition that we ever made, including the Big Three.”"

Riley also talked about his meeting with the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss to discuss the coaching vacancy created by Phil Jackson’s departure. He said that he brought up O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, about wanting to coach the two of them despite reports of their troubled relationship. Rather than move to Los Angeles to coach them, Riley traded for O’Neal to create a new duo with Dwyane Wade.

"So I don’t know if [Jerry Buss] brought me out there to really coach the team, or if he brought me out there to speculate on whether or not we would trade Wade and Caron Butler and everything else. And I said no. But when they called back, when Mitch [Kupchak, the Lakers’ general manager] called back, there is no doubt we had interest and that then formulated into an offer and then a trade that was made for Caron and Lamar [Odom] and Brian Grant with the first-round pick. And we ended up getting Shaq and we ended up getting the championship.”"

The Heat were coming off a surprise 2003-04 season in which, led by a rookie Wade, they made the playoffs. The team featured a young Caron Butler and an all-star level player in Lamar Odom.

It’s one of the all-time favorite teams of Heat fans–despite its modest 42-40 record and semi-finals loss in the playoffs–because it over achieved, because of its potential, and because the team genuinely looked to enjoy playing together.

That’s why breaking such a team up, even to acquire a Hall-of-Famer like Shaq, was such a tough pill to swallow for many Heat fans. But the gamble paid off in spades. In 2006, the Heat won their first championship on the shoulders of both Shaq and Wade.

"“He turned our franchise around. He gave us real legitimacy.”"

Without that legitimacy, maybe LeBron isn’t drawn to the culture of the Heat. Maybe Riley and Wade don’t have the ring and championship experience to sell LeBron on. Maybe instead of three championship trophies, instead of five NBA Finals appearances, the Heat are in 2016 still searching for their first.

Maybe Dwyane Wade is Carmelo Anthony. Without a championship. Heck, maybe LeBron is still ring-less.

Even before Shaq, Miami made moves. Riley made moves. There was Alonzo Mourning in 1995 and Tim Hardaway in 1996. Those late-90’s teams were the first rendition of truly competitive Heat teams. Shaq, however, changed everything.

So when Riley says that Shaq was the biggest acquisition in team history, he’s right.