LeBron James’ decision to go back to Cleveland in July rankled many in the Miami Heat organization, who couldn’t understand why he’d walk away from four straight Finals appearances and two championships. In an interview with SLAM, Heat legend and Basketball Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning praised Pat Riley and the Heat’s cultural infrastructure and questioned James’ decision to leave.
SLAM: One of the really impressive things about the Miami Heat is how well the franchise takes care of its own. If you look at the moves the team’s made over the past half decade, whether it’s sticking with Coach Spoelstra when things were tough in the beginning, making sure to bring back DWade last summer, or even giving Michael Beasley another shot, Pat Riley shows so much love to guys who came up within the organization.
AM: That’s a Pat Riley thing. I think that’s the only way to do it, it really is. I think if you’re gonna be a consistent organization, you’ve gotta take care of your own people. You do. Every year, you can’t have turnover. First of all, Spo knows the culture—it’s just a matter of getting the guys to come in and buy into it. We had a great team for four years straight, and the reason why we had a great team was not just because we had the best player on the planet, it’s because we had the best team that bought into a culture. Everybody bought into this culture. After going to the Finals four years like that, I find it very difficult for individuals like we had to stop buying into the culture that got you four straight NBA Finals appearances. How do you stop buying into that? If you got there four years in a row, why not get back there four more times? And then four more times? Why not get back there 10 years in a row? It’s doable. And Pat Riley wasn’t gonna stop bringing pieces in to complement, you know? So why walk away from a dynasty?
SLAM: You gotta ask LeBron.
AM: [Laughs] Yeah. That’s the question. Why walk away from a dynasty when you have to go somewhere and rebuild, basically? Then you’ve got Kevin Love, who’s not happy at all. He’s outta there.
SLAM: It’s just different priorities, right? It’s the mindset that the NBA Championship isn’t everything, that there’s more to it than that.
AM: Evidently. It had to be. It’s very difficult to even think about walking away from something like that. How do you walk away?
That culture Mourning speaks of is exactly why it was difficult to imagine James leaving the Heat this summer, right up until he did just that. It was important for him to go home, and now that the Cavs are playing like title contenders, it looks like he made the right decision.
But it isn’t lost on James how important the Heat were to his growth. In his Sports Illustrated letter announcing his return to Cleveland, he likened his four years with the Heat to going to college in what it meant to his development. The organization has taken care of Mourning through years of health problems, and now they’re doing the same with Chris Bosh, who chose to return rather than take a better chance at a title with the Rockets.