Heat president Pat Riley was furious when LeBron James bolted Miami and returned to the Cavaliers in 2014 but now feels James ‘did the right thing.’ That’s one of the revelations by Riley to author Ian Thomsen in his new book “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown between LeBron, Kobe, Doc and Dirk that Saved the NBA” which was excerpted in a Jackie MacMullen story for ESPN.
Riley came to that conclusion slowly, as he fumed for months over James’ decision to go back to Cleveland. He ultimately understood that James would never be truly accepted in his home state again unless he won a championship there.
“My beautiful plan all of a sudden came crashing down,” Riley told Thomsen. “That team in ten years could have won five or six championships. But I get it. I get the whole chronicle of [LeBron’s] life. While there may have been some carnage always left behind when he made these kinds of moves, in Cleveland and also in Miami, he did the right thing.”
Other notable revelations in the interview included:
- James hinted early in his first Heat season during a meeting among Riley and the Big Three of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and James that he wanted Riley to return to coaching and replace Erik Spoelstra. “I remember LeBron looking at me, and he said, ‘Don’t you ever get the itch?’ I said, ‘The itch for what?’ He said, ‘The itch to coach again?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t have the itch.’ He didn’t ask any more questions, and I didn’t offer any more answers. But I know what it meant, and I always go back and wonder about what he was thinking at that time. “
- The public outcry after James’ announcement that he would be “taking my talents to South Beach” shook up James when he headed to Miami. “That night at three in the morning we met him at the airport. … They got off the plane, and I remember walking right up to LeBron. He was worn-out. He was just worn-out. He almost had tears in his eyes.”
- Riley had no contact with James until Game 7 the 2016 NBA Finals, when Riley texted him. “As soon as he hit the floor, I sent a text to him. I said, ‘Win this and be free.’ He never got back to me with a response.” Riley and James continue to be at odds, according to MacMullen.