Why the Miami Heat boss has keen rooting interest in KC Chiefs’ quest for 3-peat

Carl Juste/cjuste@miamiherald.com

Nobody outside of the Chiefs and their fan base have a bigger rooting interest in a third straight Super Bowl championship than Miami Heat president and former coach Pat Riley.

Why Riley? Is there a Kansas City connection? Is he a friend of Chiefs coach Andy Reid? A Patrick Mahomes enthusiast, perhaps?

Riley’s interest is strictly business. He owns the trademarks to various versions of the term “three-peat.”

The Chiefs, presented their Super Bowl LVIII championship rings last Thursday, are bidding this season to become the first team to win a third straight Super Bowl.

That would be a three-peat. Or 3-peat. Riley has owned both terms since 1988.

The Chiefs are well aware of the deal.

“We’re going to have to figure that out,” said Chiefs president Mark Donovan. “Our big question would be, do you just pay the licensing fee? Do a deal, incorporate him into what we would do?

Donovan said the Chiefs, if they walk off the field in New Orleans next February as Super Bowl LIX champions, could come up with their own description for winning three straight.

The Chiefs’ “Nobility Trilogy”? Or “KC-3”? That’s just to get the ball rolling ...

Other teams have attempted to find workarounds with Riley. In 2005, when USC was bidding for a third straight college football national championship, Trojans coach Pete Carroll tried to sell “Three-Pete” T-shirts. Sales were discontinued when Carroll was warned that he was infringing on the Riley-owned trademark.

The “three-peat” marketing idea originated when Riley was head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. The Showtime team of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Byron Scott was coming off a second straight NBA championship in 1988, having beaten the Detroit Pistons to become the league’s first repeat champ in 20 years.

Riley has said that he heard Scott use “three-peat” during the victory parade, and that’s how the coach labeled the upcoming challenge. Fans chanted “three-peat” at Lakers games that season, and the term entered the sports lexicon. Soon, “three-peat” T-shirts were being printed in Los Angeles.

It was Riley’s agent who came up with the idea of officially coining the phrase. On Nov. 7, 1988 the trademark was filed under Riley’s licensing company, Riles & Co. A few months later the application was approved and trademark #1552980 was granted. It covered shirts, jackets and hats.

In 1994, the range of items covered under the trademark was expanded to non-metal key chains and plaques. Later, three-peat bed covers and other bedding products were added.

Riley had looked to cash in big immediately with the 1988-89 Lakers, who won their first three playoff series with an 11-0 record. But the Pistons used brooms of their own to sweep the Lakers out of the NBA Finals in Abdul-Jabbar’s final season.

The NBA, however, would soon deliver for Riles & Co. Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls twice pulled off three-peats, in 1993 and 1998. Reports at the time had Riley making $300,000 off use of the trademark during that span.

On the way to the NBA Finals in 1993, the Bulls defeated the New York Knicks, who were coached by Riley at the time. Asked about the trademark, he said, “It was done as a business proposition when I was working with the Lakers. We were just smart enough not to get rid of it.”

Riles & Co. also cashed in on three-peat merch with the Lakers (2000-02), New York Yankees (1998-2000), the third of Jimmie Johnson’s five straight NASCAR Cup championships and more.

Riley has said net proceeds from use of his trademark go to charity, but none of that has been reported publicly.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, have said all the right things this offseason. All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce noted the team “didn’t go back-to-back by talking about back-to-back. We got there by trying to figure out the best way to get better from the last week.”

Chiefs wide receiver Justin Watson agreed and quoted baseball great Hank Aaron.

“He said, ‘Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games,’” Watson said. “This time of year, nobody cares that you’ve won the Super Bowl last year.”

Except Riles & Co., which has a major rooting interest in the upcoming NFL season, as well as a couple of basketball teams.

The Las Vegas Aces are in the midst of a quest for a third straight WNBA title and the Connecticut Huskies will be seeking a third straight NCAA men’s basketball championship.

Those teams, like the Chiefs, will have a big fan in Miami.

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