LeBron James choosing to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2014 rather than re-signing with the Miami Heat changed the NBA landscape, breaking up a dynasty and shifting power in the Eastern Conference.
Pat Riley never lashed out publicly at LeBron for leaving, but it has been reported and suspected that he was upset by James’ decision to break up the Big 3 in Miami after two titles in four years. However, Riley, notorious for being an extremely private person, finally opened up to ESPN’s Wright Thompson in an expansive feature for ESPN The Magazine.
Among the many insights into Riley was the Heat’s side of the story from LeBron’s free agency. Riley flew to Las Vegas to visit with James and was immediately concerned by the absence of James’ confidant and business partner Maverick Carter from the meeting. Riley chose to audible, leaving his main pitch, which was an easel with other free agent targets the Heat could pursue if James returned and the two Larry O’Brien trophies the Heat won with James, outside after noting the tone of the room.
After returning to Miami, worried that he was about to losing his star, Riley received the phone call he was dreading and was extremely mad that his dynasty — which Thompson writes he felt had the chance to be bigger than the Showtime Lakers — was being torn apart prematurely.