But apparently Riley now better understands LeBron’s point of view.
Jackie MacMullan of ESPN, previewing Ian Thomsen’s new book, “The Soul of Basketball:”
“My beautiful plan all of a sudden came crashing down,” Riley said. “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.
“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.'”
Riley told Thomsen that after James left, he had no contact with him until the 2016 NBA Finals, when Cleveland played the Golden State Warriors in Game 7. Riley said it was then he finally reached out.
“I didn’t want to send him anything that he could read before he hit the floor,” Riley said. “As soon as he hit the floor, I sent a text to him. I said, ‘Win this and be free.’
“He never got back to me with a response. In fact, he said something after the game.”
That’s when LeBron revealed his secret motivation:
When he left Miami and people who he grew to, he thought to, have trusting relationships with – he said, I’m not going to name names, but someone told me that you’re making the biggest mistake of your career. And he said it really hurt him. Basically, he felt taken for granted. Like, Look, I just gave you four years of my prime, and you’re not going to be comfortable with my decision and root me on? You’re going to make me feel bad going out the door?
“It wasn’t me,” Riley told Thomsen. “I never said anything to him.
Sources told ESPN that James and Riley have not spoken to each other since James returned to Cleveland in 2014. James, according to a source familiar with his thinking, would be interested in thawing that icy relationship, but believes that Riley has no interest in doing so. “That’s just how Riles is,” said the source. “He’s old school. You’re either with him or against him.”
Riley and Wade went through something similar. Now, it’s all love with Wade back in Miami.
Time heals most wounds, and that’ll probably be the case between Riley and LeBron. There’s a stubbornness involved now, but they accomplished so much together. The bond developed over those four seasons, including two championships, can’t simply be erased.
The only question is who makes the next move. If LeBron truly is interested in easing tension – especially if he left Riley’s 2016 text unanswered – LeBron could reach out. But LeBron, even if he’s putting out word he wants détente, might actually still be bitter. That’d be understandable given Riley’s reaction in 2014. On the other hand, it’d also be understandable if Riley feels he did his part with the 2016 text.
Something has to give, and it probably will. Eventually.