When James was last a free agent, the question was this: Would he stay in a place where he had been idolized for so many years, or would he pack his bags and find a city that was better suited to win a championship?
James chose the latter, and despite it being the unpopular choice at the time, it's proved to be the right move on virtually every level.
As arguably the best player on the planet, James has a lot to offer the game. He’s improved both his low-post and long-distance skill sets, he’s proved he can get it done in the clutch and he’s as entertaining as it comes for those who like quality, athletic basketball.
But while James was just as entertaining as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he simply wasn’t the player he is today as a member of the Heat.
When James went on ESPN and so infamously declared where he was taking his talents, it was the defining moment of his career up to that point. Riley had presented him with the championship rings he’d earned over his career, and James had seen enough to persuade him where he needed to be.
If you doubt in any way that these two are connected, ask yourself this: Do you think James would have promised not five, not six, not seven championships to the Cavs, or any other team for that matter?
Riley gave him the confidence to do just that, and while eight championships may be optimistic, the two legends came together to compete for a title year after year.
James not only had an understanding of what success truly meant, he had the faith to believe that Riley and the Heat were the ones to get him there.
Let’s not forget, either, that Riley has James’ back both on and off the court. The Boston Celtics’ Danny Ainge went on the Salk & Holley Show on WEEI 93.7 in Boston proclaiming that the Heat star was complaining too much when it came to referees.
Needless to say, Riley didn’t take kindly to the comments.
Message from Pat Riley: " Danny Ainge needs to STFU." Yes, this is real. Delivered by Heat spokesman Tim Donovan.— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) March 29, 2013
For anyone who wants to claim that James' ties to Riley are a bad thing, you can’t ignore the fact that this is a two-way street.
Riley, for everything he’s accomplished in his basketball career, will forever be tied to James. Without the megastar, he’d be looking at a far different roster with a vastly different success rate.
Truth be told, James and Riley have combined to recreate the definition of success at the NBA level. When the Heat drop multiple games in a row, the outside world would want you to believe that the team is falling apart.
Then again, anything less than a championship will no longer suffice, and these two wouldn't have it any other way.
As president of the Heat, Riley went out and built himself a roster that was ready to win right away. Say what you want about free agency versus the draft, but the success that Miami has found since 2010 has been unmatched around the Association.
The truth is that James and Riley will split up someday—sooner rather than later if you believe the rumors about the 2014 offseason—but the fact is this: The two legacies are tied together regardless of what happens.
Riley is a modern day genius for what he's pulled off, and James is making his way up the ladder of the game's all-time greats. Both he and James deserve full credit for being a part of something so special, and it’s not a matter of who has accomplished more or who has established the better legacy.