I didnt hear thunder roar
Didnt see the lightning flash
But I know that He changed my life
and the heartaches in my past
Im revived and Im satisfied
know that Ive been set free
All the joy I have within
He has given me.
Those lyrics are LeBron, Pat Riley says.
The legend who sits atop the Heat organization, boss to The King, recently recommended this gospel hymn to LeBron James, a song to commence the soaring. It is titled He Took Away All My Pain, by a group called Sounds Of Blackness, and it is about the liberation from anguish necessary to truly begin the most profound ascensions. Over the years, Riley has consulted with a library of generals and philosophers in search of inspiration, history littered with the lessons found in failures rubble. But later in life, as mortality approaches for a sports immortal, Riley has moved away from mere men and gotten closer to God, his journey taking him through scripture and song.
At the miserable end of the miserable end, back in 2011, Riley says he had a bunch of [expletive] written down to share with James at their exit meeting. About spending time with a psychologist. About working on a jump hook. About losing weight. And there were an assortment of spiritual nuggets and philosophical quotes, too. But he discarded it all as soon as a hollow, haunted James walked into the room, figuring that what James really needed was just to go somewhere and suffer, alone with his shame.
He was in a very dark place for those two or three weeks of isolation and hibernation, Riley says. Theres nothing like going through it. That is enough. I dont think, after what he has endured, this man is capable of being broken. He can be down at the depths of personal depression, but now look at him.
Yes, now look at him. Shooting threes better than Ray Allen. Rebounding better than he ever has. Shooting under 40 percent in only one stinking game this season, a mathematical absurdity for a non-post player. Somehow improving, in other words, even though he was already the best player on the planet. Riley loves acronyms. He gave Dwyane Wade BIW after the crowning in 2006. Best In World. He texts Chris Bosh MVB. Most Versatile Big. But he pushes James with something larger, comparing him not to any peer today in a peerless world but rather against all of history: BOAT, he calls him. Best Of All Time.
Is that who you are and who you want to be? Riley asks. Is that where you aspire? Riley knows these things are subjective with artists, especially across eras, but he adds, All you really want is to be in the argument. It is an incredible accomplishment just to be there. Picasso. Matisse. Donatello. Pollock. LeBron is already in the argument.
Riley has almost half a century of skin in this game, so much of it spent around greatness. He was on the bench when Jerry West was in the middle of a 33-game winning streak. He held up the trophy with Magic and Kareem. He still has the scars from what Michael Jordan did to him. There was a lot of comparison shopping being done with basketball genius last week, as Jordan celebrated his 50th birthday, which was Sunday, so many ghosts talking as James took his first steps along Jordans path. Although no one seems to remember it, his 6-0 record in the NBA Finals an excellent amnesia, Jordan was scalded, too, before he ever won ball-hog, cant win the big one and all the usual nonsense. So last week James was talked down to by the ghosts and the gods, Jordan and Magic comparing him unfavorably even to contemporary Kobe Bryant, Jordan saying five championships trumps one. But Riley, for one, thinks we are witnessing someone in Miami who has no precedent.