Best Coach

When Pat Riley stepped down as Miami Heat coach two years ago, he took a lot of flack for bailing out on the team. But the man with the best slicked-back hair in America had already lost face. Remember when he traded Jamal Mashburn to the Hornets in 2000 only to have the Monster Mash dominate the Heat in the first round of the following year's playoffs? It's hard to, uh, rebound from something like that. Riley, looking older by the day, stuck it out for another two tough years before handing the reins of the team over to Stan Van Gundy, from whom very little was expected. He was short, balding, and fat -- the George Costanza of coaching. But Van Gundy, with his self-effacing humor and oven-fresh attitude, shocked the world in his first season, leading the Heat to the second round of the playoffs with the help of his sensational rookie, Dwyane Wade. This season, however, presented an even more daunting -- if enviable -- challenge: To integrate Shaquille O'Neal into the team and bring it to championship level. Van Gundy answered that call with pitch-perfect tone and a beautiful strategy, Diesel Power, which features Shaq's passing talents rather than his scoring ability. By giving Shaq a central role in the half-court offense, every player has been able to profit from Shaq's presence, from Udonis Haslem to Christian Laettner. And it has proven that Van Gundy is master of his domain.

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