Until the moment LeBron James left the Miami Heat, probably the angriest Pat Riley has ever been is when he released an official statement - official! - saying that ”Danny Ainge needs to ”shut the f**k up and manage his own team,” adding that Ainge was always a whiner. But then LeBron decided to leave, and Ainge got bumped down the list.
It's not just that Riley didn't see it coming. The way LeBron handled the breakup made it so much worse. The fact James didn't sign an extension with the Heat was a red flag. But Riley being Riley, he was confident the Heat had the best offer. LeBron accepted a meeting when free agency opened, and Riley flew to Las Vegas to seal the deal.
There, it became apparent LeBron agreed to meet as a courtesy. The only thing is, it wasn't courteous at all. According to Stephen A. Smith, LeBron was playing video games while Riley was making his pitch. This wasn't a serious meeting. Alonzo Mourning, who was present, had to step in and tell LeBron to check himself. ”Yo, you are not going to disrespect this man like that.'”
The moment the meeting ended, Riley knew he was being played. The disrespect was through the roof. Dan Le Batard knows a thing or two about Miami and Pat Riley. Here's how he described Riley's reaction.
“He was enraged for months, crazed, rabid. Embarrassed that The King had summoned him to Las Vegas for a sham recruitment pitch. Betrayed. Why would LeBron leave the cult and think he could just take the culture?”
When Pat Riley is team president, there's no room for LeGM. For sure, LeBron could always get a meeting, and his voice and opinion were taken into consideration. But Riley and his team were making the decisions off the court; LeBron's domain was on the court. You can't build Klutch Sports that way.
There were signs player empowerment was around the corner. LeBron trying to get Spoelstra fired so Riley would return to the head coaching position. The mini-coup attempt in Cleveland, when LeBron wanted to have people over for dinner after playing the Cavs, challenging Spoelstra's orders the team was to fly to the next location that day. But the first sign this wasn't just a star player asking for perks or a coaching change happened before all that. It happened on LeBron's first day as a member of the Heat.
“LeBron and his agency tried to take over the Heat in 2010 the way they took over the Cavs upon return to Cleveland and have taken over the Lakers now. They asked for hundreds of free season tickets upon arrival in Miami, but Riley wouldn’t allow the encroachments on his power even as he found himself at the heart of the same argument Jordan once had with the Bulls.” Le Batard reveals.
Not a few courtside seats when family and friends visit Miami. Hundreds of free season tickets! LeBron came to Miami to learn how to lead a championship team - he was there to learn the Pat Riley/Heat Way. But he still wanted to do it on his terms. Miami wasn't the destination; it was just a stop on the way to building LeBron's empire.
The man who established "The Disease of Me" years ago didn't see it happening before his eyes. Riley was hooked on the idea LeBron would spend the majority of his career in Miami, creating the next NBA dynasty. He didn't realize the only dynasty LeBron James was interested in building was the James dynasty.