A few hours before the Miami Heat's scheduled season opener Tuesday, Pat Riley climbed out of his black Corvette wearing a black shirt, black pants and black shoes.
He was dressed for mourning, and Alonzo Mourning was nowhere in sight. Neither were the other Heat players.
"I actually miss them," Riley said wryly.
With the start of the season postponed because of the NBA lockout, about 50 Heat employees -- including the head coach -- visited a middle school near downtown to talk about their work. A deep-voiced Heat announcer melodramatically introduced Riley at an auditorium assembly, and the youngsters responded with screaming worthy of a Hanson concert.
Those may be the only cheers Riley hears for a while. On Tuesday, Miami's game against the Indiana Pacers was among 10 openers lost because of the labor dispute.
"Our coaching staff has been working hard the past two months -- twiddling our thumbs," Riley joked. "We're missing opening night with the tremendous enthusiasm and great excitement. So we'll wait. There will be an opening night."
Riley offered one other bit of encouragement for Heat fans: He said he has been recharged by the off-season. As recently as last season, the 53-year-old coach said he wasn't "a lifer" -- ominous words for a franchise that would like to keep Riley on the sideline for many years to come.
Now, it sounds as though that could happen.
"Coaching has changed, and I like it better now," he said. "I miss it. I miss getting out there. I've gotten to love coaching more. Maybe it's because I'm older, and I know exactly what it is I want to do."
This season, if and when it starts, will be Riley's fourth in Miami and his 17th as a coach. This is just the second interruption in his career -- he worked as a TV commentator in 1990-91 after leaving the Los Angeles Lakers.
"I took a year off when I went to NBC," he said. "I didn't like it at all."
On Tuesday, Riley was so desperate to keep busy that he spent the morning at home helping an electrician. Hcan only hope his players keep busy by working out.
"I haven't talked to anybody in five months, but they're professionals," he said. "I assume they'll be ready. We'll find out when the bell rings."
Riley's eagerness to tip off is fueled in part by a desire to erase the memory of last season. The Heat were eliminated from the playoffs by the New York Knicks in a bitter, bruising series.
"It ended abruptly," he said. "It was sort of like unfinished business, because we didn't put an exclamation mark on the season. It ended on a sour note."
Riley's comments were his first to reporters in weeks. He couldn't say much about the lockout without risking a fine from the league, but the middle school students didn't know that.
"Why are you here?" an eighth-grade girl asked.
"We're supposed to be playing our first game," Riley responded. "Because we're not working, we decided to work here at Carver Middle School and show you some of the things we do."
In a nearby classroom, Heat employees taught students how to find the team web site, which included a countdown to the opening of Miami's new basketball arena: 423 days, nine hours, 40 minutes, 47 seconds.
There was no indication when the season will open.
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