Barry Jackson

Heat’s Riley confirms change in contract, goes behind-the-scenes on Wade, LeBron in ESPN piece

Pat Riley addresses a change in his Heat contract and a major reason for the communication breakdown in the Dwyane Wade negotiations, among other topics, in an absorbing profile of the Heat president.

According to the piece, released Tuesday morning, Riley’s five-year contract, signed last year, came “with the understanding that he can work anywhere, including his perch overlooking the Pacific.” Riley owns three homes, all in a row, in Malibu.

Author Wright Thompson said “Riley’s friends have been wondering for years when he'd head west, all of them following the internal conflict they've come to know as Miami vs. Malibu.”

One of those friends, actor Michael Douglas, is quoted as saying: "I love the schism because that's all he talks about. That's all he talks about, getting back to Malibu to that house."

Thompson said this past March, before scouting NCAA Tournament games in Sacramento, Riley went to his home in Malibu for one day, “listens to just a few songs on repeat, by singer-songwriter Jason Isbell, "Something More Than Free" and "Traveling Alone." They're about loneliness and labor and the emptiness of being made to travel a road not of your choosing. I've grown tired of traveling alone. His two lives flash through his mind, the one he keeps dreaming about and the one he's actually living....

“He calls Chris to talk about what he feels. Three decades ago, they planned a life here, in their heart home, with this view every day. He wants more Malibu and less Miami, feeling his ‘tipping point’ close at hand, as he puts it, but there's another flight to catch in the morning. He stares out at the sunset.”

Riley, 72, says: “Instead of this, I go to work!"

But the piece ends with this quote: "You know the greatest lie in the world?" Riley says, laughing. "Pat's retiring to Malibu."

The piece touches on how hard he took Wade’s departure, and his reaction to Wade’s comments in January that this could have worked out differently if Riley had merely called him during the early stages of free agency last July.

Riley told Thompson that Wade's agent “asked to deal directly with the owners instead of Pat, so he merely honored that request. Mostly, he just wishes the whole thing had gone differently.”

Said Riley, in the piece: "I know he feels I didn't fight hard enough for him. I was very, very sad when Dwyane said no. I wish I could have been there and told him why I didn't really fight for him at the end. ... I fought for the team. The one thing I wanted to do for him, and maybe this is what obscured my vision, but I wanted to get him another player so he could end his career competitive."

The piece also offers details about Riley’s final meeting with LeBron James before he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2014. Riley, who was summoned to Las Vegas to meet with James and his representatives, told GM Andy Elisburg “to get the two championship trophies LeBron had won and pack them in their hard-shell carrying cases.”

Elisburg, according to the ESPN piece, “also brought charts and an easel for a presentation about the free agents the Heat would pursue. The day of the meeting, a hotel bellhop followed them with a luggage cart carrying the presentation and the two trophies. Riley brought wine from a Napa vineyard named Promise. It was the same label Maverick Carter had presented Riley with when they did the deal four years earlier. Riley respects Carter, and when he walked into the suite and saw James with agent Rich Paul and friend Randy Mims but no Maverick, part of him knew the meeting wasn't sincere. He told Elisburg to keep the trophies and easel in the hall.”

Then, Thompson added a nugget that has been reported previously: James and his associates were watching a World Cup game, which they kept glancing at during the presentation. At one point, Riley asked if they would mute the television volume.

According to Thompson, Riley “flew home worried and got a text telling him to be ready for a call. About 15 minutes later, his phone rang and Paul was on the other end. The agent handed the phone to LeBron, who started by saying, "I want to thank you for four years ..."

Riley’s reaction?

“I was silent," Riley says. "I didn't say anything. My mind began to just go. And it was over. I was very angry when LeBron left. It was personal for me. It just was. I had a very good friend who talked me off the ledge and kept me from going out there and saying something like Dan Gilbert. I'm glad I didn't do it."

But now, Riley has come to understand James’ decision.

"He went home because he had to go home," he says. "It was time. It was really time for him to go home, in his prime. If he's ever gonna do anything in Akron again, this was the time to do it. Otherwise, he'd have had a scarlet letter on his back the rest of his whole life."

Chris Bosh threatened to sign with the Houston Rockets after James left, as has been widely reported, and Riley relented and gave him a max deal, with Bosh’s career now interrupted, if not permanently ended, by blood clotting.

Thompson said Riley wishes “he'd said no to Bosh's max deal and given all that money to Wade.”

Thompson’s excellent piece also appears in ESPN The Magazine’s NBA playoffs issue on newstands Friday.