Pat Riley Says LeBron James 'Did the Right Thing' with Cavaliers, Heat Moves

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2018

In this May 5, 2013 photo, Miami Heat NBA basketball player LeBron James, left, holds his NBA Most Valuable Player award as he poses with team president Pat Riley, in Miami. Before James makes his next decision, Riley will get a chance to convince him to stay in Miami. Two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press late Sunday night, July 6, 2014, that James will meet with the Heat president this week before making a decision about where to play next season. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
J Pat Carter/Associated Press

Miami Heat president Pat Riley admitted he was angry when LeBron James decided to leave his team to re-join the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, although he eventually came to terms with it and said he believes the four-time MVP made the right move.

Riley said as much in author Ian Thomsen's book, The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown between LeBron, Kobe, Doc and Dirk that Saved the NBA.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.com passed some of the notable quotes along regarding James' decision.

"I had two to three days of tremendous anger. I was absolutely livid, which I expressed to myself and my closest friends," Riley said. "My beautiful plan all of a sudden came crashing down. That team in 10 years could have won five or six championships. But I get it. I get the whole chronicle of [LeBron's] life."

Riley continued:

"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.'"

MacMullan cited sources who said Riley and James haven't spoken with each other since the latter's tenure in Miami ended, although Riley sent him a text message before the Cavaliers' Game 7 victory over the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.

The book also detailed the time James "nudged Riley toward descending from the front office to replace coach Erik Spoelstra" early in his first season with the Heat, per MacMullan. In addition, Riley discussed the emotional toll of the fallout from James' initial decision to leave Cleveland and join Miami.

Spoelstra ultimately remained the coach of those Heat teams and helped guide James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to four straight NBA Finals appearances. Miami won two titles in that span, although James still had plenty of dominant basketball in his tank when he returned to Cleveland in 2014.

The Cavaliers have been to each of the last three NBA Finals with James aboard, stretching his individual streak to seven. They remain the obstacle the Toronto Raptors and every other Eastern Conference contender will have to overcome to reach the game's biggest stage in this year's playoffs.

Even if Riley didn't see it in the immediate aftermath of James' departure from Miami, he now understands the importance of James returning home and finding success in Cleveland.


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