Top Stories

Pat Riley says LeBron James 'did the right thing' when he left Miami Heat

From NBA media reports

Miami Heat president Pat Riley was perhaps most instrumental in his team signing LeBron James via free agency in the summer of 2010. He was also on the other side of that transaction four years later, when James left the Heat to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2014.

In a new book written by Ian Thomsen called “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown between LeBron, Kobe, Doc and Dirk that Saved the NBA,” Riley opens up about how he felt in those days after James decided to head back to Ohio. ESPN’s Jackie MacMullen got a look at the new book and has details on LeBron’s exit from Miami:

“I had two to three days of tremendous anger. I was absolutely livid, which I expressed to myself and my closest friends,” Riley said. Then, Thomsen wrote, over the weeks and months to come, Riley came to see the move to Cleveland from LeBron’s point of view. “My beautiful plan all of a sudden came crashing down,” Riley said. “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. I just finally came to accept the realization that he and his family said, ‘You’ll never, ever be accepted back in your hometown if you don’t go back to try to win a title. Otherwise someday you’ll go back there and have the scarlet letter on your back. You’ll be the greatest player in the history of mankind, but back there, nobody’s really going to accept you.’ ”

Riley told Thomsen that after James left, he had no contact with him until the 2016 NBA Finals, when Cleveland played the Golden State Warriors in Game 7. Riley said it was then he finally reached out.

“I didn’t want to send him anything that he could read before he hit the floor,” Riley said. “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. In fact, he said something after the game.”

From 2010-11 to 2013-14, the Heat made four NBA Finals, winning championships in 2012 and 2013 while playing alongside fellow superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. In his second season with the Cavs, he led them to the championship and has helped them to The Finals each of the past three seasons.

Although Miami was atop the NBA world during that four-season span, things with the Heat’s “super team” didn’t start out great. Miami went 9-8 to open the 2010-11 season and in the book, Riley tells Thompson that James hinted at getting Riley to return to coaching and replace Erik Spoelstra.

In the book, Riley says that the day after the Heat’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 27, 2010, he asked James, Wade and Bosh to meet him in his office for their thoughts on how the season was going.

“They just said, ‘We’re not feeling it,’ or something like that,” Riley told Thomsen. “We talked about the typical things that we have to do, have patience and all of that stuff. And 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. He walked out scratching his leg like it was itching.”

Riley said to Thomsen that similar questions were raised during the team’s July 2010 free-agent recruiting pitch to LeBron.

“They wanted to know what was going to happen with Erik,” Riley said. “They wondered if I was going to be coaching. I said, ‘Look, Erik is the head coach, that’s it. I support him. I’m not interested in coaching.’ ”

The book also details the infamous “welcome rally” James, Wade and Bosh held after signing in which James promised “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six not seven [championships].” Riley says in the book he was too concerned with the details of working out the deals to land Bosh and James (as well as re-sign Wade) to monitor the details of the celebration.

Additionally, sources told ESPN that James and Riley have not spoken to each other since James left town in 2014. Per ESPN, James — according to a source familiar with his thinking — would be interested in thawing their relationship, but believes that Riley has no interest in doing so.

Thomsen’s book will be released on April 17.