Bitter rivals Pat Riley, Danny Ainge going head-to-head for Gordon Hayward

ORLANDO – Pat Riley and his nemesis once again are locked in a duel.

Riley and the Miami Heat made their pitch to Utah small forward Gordon Hayward Saturday and today Hayward will meet with Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics. Riley and Ainge have a history that has been ugly, vindictive and resorted to name calling.

    Which is why winning the Hayward Sweepstakes will be that much sweeter for whoever emerges.

This bad blood goes back 3½ decades when Riley coached the Lakers and Ainge played for the Celtics. The teams hooked up in three intense, physical, ugly Finals in the ultimate clash of styles and cultures.

But back then Riley hated everything and everybody associated with the Celtics.

He hated the Boston Garden.

He hated then Celtics president Red Auerbach.

He probably hated the color green and shamrocks, despite his Irish heritage.

But the bitterness really boiled over in March of 2013 when Riley issued a statement shortly after Ainge let it be known how tired he had gotten of then Heat star LeBron James complaining about the league’s officiating, saying it was “almost embarrassing.”

Riley had enough:

“Danny Ainge needs to shut the f— up and manage his own team. He was the biggest whiner going when he was a player. I know that because I coached against him.”

That ‘F’ word, by the way, was not censored in Riley’s statement.

To which Ainge shot back:

“I stand by what I said. That’s all. 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 was on. Two NBA team presidents acting not very presidential. … umm, at least not for those times.

The previous year Riley swooped in and stole free agent Ray Allen from the Celtics. The Celtics were bitter, although that was aimed at the Heat and Allen, who turned down a higher offer from Boston. Allen remains shunned by his former Celtics teammates to this day.

Then, in July of 2014, Ainge got his payback by helping the Cavaliers clear cap space for their pursuit of James. Boston was part of a three-team trade in which Cleveland dumped three contracts, allowing it to get to the required number to sign James. Two days later, James’ penned his famous ‘I’m coming home’ letter.

Hayward will make his decision after meeting with his incumbent team, Utah, on Monday. If he leaves Utah he will be the No. 1 free agent to switch teams this summer and that decision will help tip the balance of power in the Eastern Conference, perhaps not this season as Cleveland remains the favorite, but probably in the not-too-distant future.

And Riley and Ainge believe they both have a shot.

Stay tuned. Because somewhere down the line, no matter where Hayward lands, Riley and Ainge will meet again, with swords sharpened.

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