One of the running subplots of the 2015 Finals was LeBron James’s reference to a “secret motivation” driving him—something he shared with teammates, and even with Dwyane Wade, but refused to reveal to the public until he won a championship in Cleveland. He didn’t win last year, but that motivation remained, and after yesterday’s Game 7 win, James spilled it.
From ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:
“[James] told me that when he left Miami and people who he thought he had strong, 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. ‘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?’”
Without having any evidence that James was referring to Pat Riley, it was totally Pat Riley.
The relationship between the two certainly isn’t what it once was, even if it’s only spilled over into shade instead of outright sniping. Stuff like this, from before last year’s draft:
(It’s widely assumed that the Heat took PG Shabazz Napier in the 2014 draft to appease James, just two weeks before James announced he was heading back to Cleveland.)
You can understand why Riley might’ve felt put out by James’s departure, after four successful years and after molding the team to his best player’s specifications. But neither of them owed the other anything beyond honoring the terms of their contracts; if Riley made certain personnel decisions, or if James altered his game in certain ways, it was for the mutual benefit of all. And while it certainly worked, James was free to use his free agency how he liked (and free to use this not-very-harsh comment as motivation), just as Riley was free to try to convince him to stay. There’s nothing particularly uncouth about Riley’s parting warning, other than the now-obvious fact that he was wrong.