Pat Riley hasn’t said much publicly regarding LeBron James’ departure from the Miami Heat that ended the team’s “Big 3” era.
But in a new book by Ian Thomsen called “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown between LeBron, Kobe, Doc and Dirk that Saved the NBA,” Riley reveals details about his feelings about James’ decision as well as details of the early days of his union with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
An article by ESPN published Monday morning revealing excerpts from the book that is to be released on April 17, Riley tells Thomsen:
“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.’”
James left Miami in the summer of 2014 after winning two NBA championships and four consecutive seasons of making the NBA Finals playing alongside Wade and Bosh. In his second season (2015-16) back playing for his hometown team, James led the Cavaliers to the NBA title and has led them to the Finals each of the past three years.
At age 33, James is having one of his most remarkable seasons this year, leading the league in minutes per game (37.2) while averaging 27.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and a career-best 9.2 assists per game. If James plays the Cavs’ final two games, he would have played all 82 in a season for the first time in his career.
The Heat is among several teams including the Lakers, 76ers and Knicks that have been mentioned to potentially pursue James should he test free agency this offseason.
Riley tells Thomsen in the book that he was very angry initially over James’ decision to leave.
“I had two to three days of tremendous anger. I was absolutely livid, which I expressed to myself and my closest friends. Then, Thomsen wrote, over the weeks and months to come, Riley came to see the move to Cleveland from LeBron’s point of view. My beautiful plan all of a sudden came crashing down. That team in ten years could have won five or six championships. But I get it. I get the whole chronicle of [LeBron’s] life.”
Riley also told Thomsen that James tried hinting to him that he should come back to coach the Heat and replace Erik Spoelstra following the Heat’s 9-8 start to that first season (2010-2011) the group was together.
In the book, Riley says that the day after the Heat’s loss to Dallas, he asked James, Wade and Bosh to meet him in his office to gauge how they felt the season was progressing.
“They just said, ‘We’re not feeling it,’ or something like that,” Riley told Thomsen. “We talked about the typical things that we have to do, have patience and all of that stuff. And I remember LeBron looking at me, and he said, ‘Don’t you ever get the itch?’ I said, ‘The itch for what?’ He said, ‘The itch to coach again?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t have the itch.’ He didn’t ask any more questions, and I didn’t offer any more answers. But I know what it meant, and I always go back and wonder about what he was thinking at that time. He walked out scratching his leg like it was itching.”
Riley said in the book he never intended to return to coaching the Heat.
“The thought was in their mind at times that maybe I would come back and coach, I think. But I was truly done, I didn’t want to get back into it, and Erik is a hell of a coach. He was coming off two good playoff years, but he had not been coaching three superstars. And then with the whole LeBron effect, it would have been a tough transition for any head coach with two years of experience.”
Riley reveals in the book the way he tried to prepare James and his advisers for the flood of criticism that would erupt following James’ public declaration to leave Cleveland and come to Miami.
Riley also said he was shocked by the level of spectacle at the Heat’s “welcome rally,” at which James declared the Heat would win “not four, not five, not six, not seven … [NBA titles]” saying that he and his staff were too focused on negotiating the deals to bring James and Bosh to Miami to monitor the details regarding the event.
“I knew there was going to be something, but I didn’t envision that,” Riley said. “It was my fault. It’s all on me.”