White House visit familiar territory for Pat Riley

MIAMI — When Pat Riley last visited the White House to mark the Miami Heat’s 2006 championship, he told President and Republican George W. Bush he had voted for him.

So what’s the Miami Heat president going to tell President and Democrat Barack Obama on Monday when his team again visits the White House?

“Here’s how I am about that,’’ said Riley, who Friday wouldn’t reveal his vote in last November’s election although it has been reported he donated $7,500 to Mitt Romney’s campaign. “Regardless of what I am, he’s the leader and that’s it. He’s the boss and I’m right behind him. And it doesn’t make any difference. And that’s how I feel about it. And so I’ll shake his hand with as much enthusiasm and hope for the best. That’s the way it is in this country. That’s how I feel about it.’’

Monday will mark the sixth visit to the White House for Riley, even though he’s been a part of eight NBA championship teams. Riley said teams didn’t go to Washington back when he won a title as a Los Angeles Lakers player in 1972 and as a Lakers assistant in 1980.

In addition to meeting with President Bush to commemorate the 2006 team he coached, Riley went to the White House and met with President Ronald Reagan following coaching Lakers title teams in 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988.

“It was different,’’ Riley said of going to the White House in the 1980s. “It wasn’t as formal. It was a little different with Magic (Johnson) and Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) …. We knew President Reagan from California (his home state). I didn’t know him personally. But he was sort of part of the whole Lakers thing back there.’’

Riley brought up President Reagan when he presented Bush with a Heat No. 1 jersey and an autographed ball during the Heat’s visit to the White House on March 1, 2007.

“I’ve been here a few times,’’ Riley told Bush. “The last standing president I was here with was a Republican, Ronald Reagan. So I’m proud to be here today. I voted for the man. If you don’t vote, you don’t count.’’

The highlight (or was it the lowlight?) of that Heat visit came when Bush tried to bounce the ball he had been presented. The ball didn’t have enough air, and it didn’t come back up to Bush.

“That was funny,” Riley recalled. “It actually wasn’t planned either. It was embarrassing. ‘Thump.’ ’’

Riley spoke to a few members of the media during a press gathering featuring former Heat stalwarts Eddie Jones and Brian Grant. As part of the team’s season-long 25th anniversary celebration, the Heat brought the two players back to Miami for Friday’s game against Detroit.

Jones, a native of Pompano Beach who played with the Heat from 2000-05 and in 2006-07, retired from the NBA in 2008. Grant, who played with the Heat from 2000-04, retired in 2006.

Shortly after that, Grant was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a disorder of the brain that leads to shaking and difficulty with movement. The disease is best known for Muhammad Ali having it.

“I’ve handled it well,’’ said Grant, whose left hand was shaking when he spoke to reporters. “That’s why I’m fanning myself (using a game program) because the tremor goes and builds up heat. I was diagnosed in ’08, but I was having symptoms back in ’06. I’ve had it for roughly seven years. But I still don’t take meds. That’s why I deal with that. Because once you start the meds, you can’t get off of them. And they give you more problems sometimes than relief. But I’m doing good. My foundation is doing good.’’

Grant heads the Brian Grant Foundation, which deals with Parkinson’s. Grant has invited Jones to a fundraiser next July in Portland, Ore., where Grant lives.

Riley called Jones and Grant key acquisitions for the Heat when they both arrived in the summer of 2000. Neither, though, was around for the 2006 title.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson