BOSTON -- After Friday's back-and-forth between Pat Riley and Danny Ainge, you have to remember one telling, underlying fact: The Heat jefe started it. And he started it because he can't help himself.
He (cue Tommy Heinsohn voice here) loathes, loathes, LOATHES the Boston Celtics.
Ainge happens to be the general manager of the Boston Celtics and what he said about LeBron James' complaining about the officiating was 100 percent correct. James should be embarrassed.
This is a guy who has never averaged more than 2.3 fouls per game in his career while playing almost 40 minutes a game. This is a guy who has had 16 games this season with no fouls, including six in a row. He's as close to Wilt (who never fouled out) as there is; he has fouled out only three times in his career in the regular season, the last time being April 2, 2008, almost five years ago. He has fouled out once in the postseason (see below).
If Rod Higgins, the basketball operations chief of the Charlotte Bobcats had said the same thing as Ainge, Riley wouldn't have uttered a word. But it was Ainge. It was Boston. It was the Celtics, the team he once called "the Klingons" of the NBA. (For the uninitiated, they were the villains in the television show "Star Trek.")
The Boston-thrope in Riley put it all down in black and white 25 years ago in his tome, "Show Time." He wrote that "the 'Boston Mystique' encourages the lowest common denominator of fan behavior. It grows directly out of the low-rent attitudes of Boston management."
The more things change, etc.
Red Auerbach is long gone, but the antipathy remains. Riley has exchanged the sun of one coast for the sun of another, but he still reviles the Celtics. (A personal note: Riley was most helpful when I asked him for an interview for a book I wrote on the 2007-08 Celtics' championship season. I wanted his thoughts on two Celtics who had played for him: Eddie House and P.J. Brown. He was terrific in talking about them. But, he said before the interview started, he was not going to say anything nice about the Celtics. "I rooted for the players, not the team," he said.)
Riley declined interview requests before the last two Miami-Boston playoff series, not wanting to steal the spotlight from Erik Spoelstra or the players. But he did mention after Game 4 last season (when Dwyane Wade's game-winning basket bounced out) that strange things continue to happen in Boston. Oh, and LeBron fouled out in that game. That was the one. In Boston. Of course.
So when Ainge mentioned, almost as an aside, that LeBron had no business whining about calls or non-calls, that was simply too much for Riley.
Why? Because Ainge did what? Told the truth? No. Because Ainge told the truth and he is a Celtic and thus he crossed Riley's own revenge Rubicon.
"Danny Ainge needs to shut the f--- up and manage his own team," Riley said in a statement issued by the team. "He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing and I know that because I coached against him."
(How mad was Riley that he used an F-bomb in a statement? Where was his editor?)
Ainge was 0.00 percent fazed by the remarks. But he also was more than content to respond to them in the flesh, on his way to his seat for the Atlanta Hawks game. There was no "statement" issued by the Celtics' public relations crew.
Ainge said he was at a loss to explain why Riley should have gotten into such a lather in the first place.
"I stand by what I said. That's all. I don't care about Pat Riley. He can say whatever he wants," Ainge said in the runway shortly before the game.
Did he object to Riley calling him a whiner?
"What Pat said, that I whined and that I should manage my own team, is true," Ainge said. "And what I said, that LeBron should be embarrassed about complaining about the officiating, is true."
This is all about Boston for Riley. Riley still feels his singular moment of triumph in the NBA came when the Lakers dethroned the Celtics in six games in the 1985 NBA Finals. Even better, they did the deed on the parquet floor of Boston Garden with all those detestable Klingons in the stands. He had grown weary of hearing his team called "The Fakers" (by the inimitable M.L. Carr) and how they were California sissies who couldn't compete with the rough-and-tumble Celtics.
"To hell with dignity. To hell with fair play," Riley wrote in his book. He was complaining (whining?) about all the legendary stuff that happened to visiting teams in Boston, from fire alarms in hotels to cold showers in the locker room. Much of it is urban legend.
Doc Rivers played for Riley and now works for Ainge. He was amused by the exchange Friday and said, "They should duke it out." He later added, "I'd like to be the promoter of that one."
Ainge said he would keep it at the verbal level. Wearing frayed blue jeans and sneakers, he said, "I don't want to mess up his Armani suits and all that hair goop. It would be way too expensive for me."