NBA championship coach speaks to Airmen about leadership

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
More than 200 Air Commandos gathered at the Commando Auditorium at Hurlburt Field Sept. 29 to hear leadership lessons from a former professional basketball player and head coach of a National Basketball Association team.

Pat Riley, president of the Miami HEAT basketball team and head coach of five NBA championship teams, spoke to Airmen while on base during his team's week-long 2010 Training Camp at the Aderholt Fitness Center.

"We're here to do what we have to do to be a team and try to discipline ourselves like the people here at Hurlburt Field who give so much to defend our freedoms," Mr. Riley said. "So far, the practices that we've had have been some of the fiercest competition I've ever seen. I think it has something to do with being here at Hurlburt Field."

After being introduced by Col. Michael Plehn, 1st Special Operations Wing commander, Mr. Riley addressed the crowd about what he deemed as the essential aspects of effective management, team-building and dealing with competition from his four decades of experience in basketball.

"More than anything else, I want to share what it takes to be a leader," Mr. Riley said. "And the tenants of what leadership, to me, really mean are someone who is committed, trustworthy, sincere, absolutely competent in what they do, and reliable. Those are also the characteristics of what makes a great team and a great organization."

Mr. Riley expanded on each of those traits with stories from his career and relationships with players like Magic Johnson and Dwyane Wade.

While speaking to the entirely military audience, Mr. Riley stressed the similarities and differences between coaching a basketball team and leading a squadron.

"A lot of principles are the same, but I think what military commanders, ground troops and Airmen do far surpass anything I can do," Mr. Riley said. "I have worked and coached for 30 years, and I would not even try to make an analogy to what the leaders do in combat. I work in the toy department of human affairs compared to what you all do."

Mr. Riley wrapped up his discussion with a question and answer session for Airmen and basketball fans alike, including which rivalries were the toughest and what pep talks stood out the most from his many championship games.

"I want to thank each and every one of you for what you do for our country and the sacrifices that you make," Mr. Riley said. "I don't take it for granted, and I think we as a country have to understand that as we move around in life, keep busy working, raise a family, and do things to be great Americans, we must know we have someone out there protecting us. I thank you for raising your hand and taking the oath during a time of war. That really says a lot about what you are all about."

Colonel Plehn thanked Mr. Riley for his presentation, calling it a "slam dunk." Capt. Darrell Randolph, 505th Command and Control Wing contracting officer, said he shared that sentiment about the event.

"This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear a great speaker and great coach," Captain Randolph said. "When I go back to my squadron, I'm going to tell them the good stories and how winning has to be as important as your next breath. I'm thankful for how proud he was of the military and how much respect he has for what we do."