Pat Riley admits LeBron James was right to leave Heat
Pat Riley has remained largely tight-lipped these last four years regarding LeBron James’ departure, but now he is making a surprising admission.
On Monday, ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan shared some comments that Riley made in author Ian Thomsen’s new book, “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown between LeBron, Kobe, Doc and Dirk that Saved the NBA.” In the book, the Heat president speaks openly about James’ time in Miami and his eventual exit. Riley discusses how he had “two to three days of tremendous anger” after the four-time MVP left as a free agent in 2014 to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers but eventually came to understand James’ point of view.
“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,” Riley was quoted as saying. “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 also reveals that he had no contact with James after the split until Game 7 of the 2016 Finals between the Cavs and the Golden State Warriors. The 73-year-old says he sent James an encouraging text but never got a response.
In hindsight, there is no question that James was right to leave Miami to return to Cleveland — beyond just the prospects of bringing a championship to his tortured hometown (which he eventually did), the Cavs had the youth and the assets in 2014 that the capped-out, aging Heat did not.
Interestingly enough, there were rumors that Riley supposedly told James that he was making “the biggest mistake of [his] career” in leaving Miami, which in turn further motivated The King during that 2016 title run. But Riley insists in the Thomsen book that he made no such comment at the time, and this latest admission from him at least makes that sound fairly believable.