You don’t need to be a genius to know the primary appeal of the NBA is getting the chance to watch the best basketball players on the planet do their thing on a nightly basis over the course of the season.
However, it would be foolish to overlook another major factor that makes the league as intriguing and entertaining as it is: the virtually unrivaled amount of drama it produces on a regular basis.
You could make the case that the NFL can go toe-to-toe with the NBA when it comes to the various storylines it’s spawned over the years.
However, I’d argue it’s very, very hard to top the NBA’s ability to treat fans to some wildly unexpected developments, whether it involves spectators getting into it with players, players butting heads with their opponents, or teammates punching each other in the face.
There have also been a number of cases where members of rival front offices have gotten in on the action, and it’s hard to think of any that stand out quite like the somewhat brief but incredibly heated beef we witnessed unfold when Pat Riley and Danny Ainge went at each other’s throats in 2013.
It’s been a decade since that somewhat infamous incident unfolded, which means there’s no better time to look back on what went down.
The time Pat Riley and Danny Ainge engaged in one of the NBA’s most unexpected feuds
Ainge and Riley have a history that stretches all the way back to the 1980s, as the former was a member of the Celtics squad that faced off against the Lakers team that was coached by the latter in the NBA Finals three times between 1984 and 1987 (Los Angeles got the upper hand on two of those occasions).
Those two franchises also had a fairly lengthy history stretching back to the 1960s, so while there was plenty of bad blood, none of those showdowns were particularly acrimonious (the Secret Base video chronicling the history between the two men notes Riley repeatedly praised Ainge for his talent and effort in those series).
Ainge continued to encounter Riley as both a coach and a player over the course of the 1990s, but there weren’t really any notable incidents to speak of.
The status quo largely remained the same after Ainge rejoined the Celtics in 2003 after being named executive director of Basketball Operations for the team that had scooped him up with the 31st pick in the 1981 NBA Draft.
That move occurred around the same time Riley voluntarily gave up his coaching duties with the Heat to focus on an executive role of his own in Miami (he made his return to the bench in 2005 but once again opted to move behind the scenes following a disappointing campaign in 2008).
The tensions that would ultimately boil over began to mount in 2010, which marked the first of three consecutive years where the Heat and the Celtics faced off in the playoffs (Boston walked away with the win in their first showdown but was unable to stop Miami’s Big Three in the two subsequent matchups).
Ainge’s Celtics were in the midst of an underwhelming season in 2013 when he fired a somewhat unsolicited shot at LeBron James for complaining about fouls during a game between the Heat and the Bulls during a radio appearance where he described his supposed moaning as “almost embarrassing.”
It’s safe to say that remark did not sit well with Riley.
On March 29, 2013, Riley chimed in on the matter and did not even attempt to mince his words when he had a spokesperson for the Heat issue a fiery statement on his behalf, which read:
“Danny Ainge needs to shut the f*** up and manage his own team.
He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing. I know that because I coached against him.”
Ainge would eventually walk back his comments, but he couldn’t resist taking a shot at Riley with a statement of his own where he explained why he had no interest in fighting his new foe, saying:
“I don’t care about Pat Riley. He can say whatever he wants.
I don’t want to mess up his Armani suits and all that hair goop. It would be way too expensive for me.”
Riley ultimately got the last laugh, as the Knicks eliminated the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs that year while the Heat would go on to win their second title in a row.
The two men may have agreed to an unofficial truce following that spat, but it still remains one of the spicier beefs in the history of the NBA.