Tomorrow Is Here Today

Motivational commencement speaker Pat Riley tells UM graduates that from this point “life really starts coming fast at you.”

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 19, 2013) — With the Miami Heat’s 19th victory of a still-young NBA season only hours old, there was little time for Pat Riley to sit and savor the win. A new challenge—one he would face in the familiar setting of a basketball arena—awaited: that of giving advice to more than 900 graduates as the speaker at the University of Miami’s 2013 fall commencement.

“I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning very nervous because I’m not used to speaking in front of an audience like this. For most of my life, it’s been 12 men sweating in their underwear,” said Riley, the iconic and stylish president of the three-time champion Heat, referring to his many years of coaching professional basketball players.


To view an archived webcast of the December 19, 2013 commencement ceremony, click here.


Riley’s nervousness never showed, though. And with the same composure and inspiring persona he has used to mold and motivate different men to nine NBA championships—five of them as a head coach—he delivered a game plan to UM’s newest graduates, telling them they will face a series of challenges over the next eight to nine years, from their first job and boss to their first mortgage and child, and to never give up.

“If there was ever a time for the Miami Heat last year to give up, it was in Game 6,” Riley said at what was the largest fall commencement in UM’s history. The Hall of Fame coach was talking about the pivotal Game 6 of the NBA Finals, when, with the Heat down by three points and the championship slipping away, Ray Allen took a Chris Bosh pass behind the three-point arc and buried a jumper with 5.2 seconds left. Allen’s shot tied the score to force overtime, and the Heat won for a winner-take-all Game 7.

It was a shot Allen had made “hundreds of thousands of times,” Riley said, using the seminal sports moment as an analogy to stress the importance of repetition. “You’re going to have to rely on that repetition, that point where you can really make a change,” Riley said. “You get a chance to make or miss on the things that you do in your life, what you do from this point on.”

Riley, named one of the “Top 10 Coaches in NBA History” by a panel of media who regularly cover the league, told graduates of David McNally’s book Even Eagles Need a Push, describing how the mother eagle coaxes her offspring to the edge of the nest for that one final task—the push. “Unless her children discover their wings, they’ll never know or have a purpose in their lives,” he said.

He praised the graduates and the teachers and parents who guided them. “I applaud your parents,” Riley said to a capacity audience in the BankUnited Center, where last spring UM’s men’s basketball team won an Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title. “I applaud these teachers and educators. I applaud you for being here, who have graduated, who have listened, who have taken the constructive criticism, who have taken the failures, who have taken the risks to get a degree because tomorrow life really starts coming fast at you.”

Riley told graduates not to be afraid of losing. “I’ve lost a lot of games in my life,” he said, noting that he’s been in more than 4,000 games. “Losing is going to be as much a part of the equation as winning, but you have to understand that there is no failure. The only failure on the part of any individual is your failure to rise again, your failure to not want to get up.”

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