During the four seasons that LeBron James was a member of the Miami Heat, he and Dwyane Wade served as the cornerstones of a team that reached the NBA Finals every year and won championships in 2012 and 2013. James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers ended that run, though the ultimate decision to leave has always had some mystery attached.
Brian Windhorst of ESPN recently appeared on Zach Lowe’s podcast to discuss a variety of items in conjunction with his new book on the Cavaliers’ championship season. Among the topics discussed were the events surrounding James’ departure from Miami and why Wade was reportedly unaware of his close friend’s pending move.
James and Wade were on a flight from Las Vegas to Miami just hours before James’ official announcement was released in an essay by writer Lee Jenkins in a Sports Illustrated column. Windhorst indicated that at no time during the flight did James tell Wade he was leaving:
“Dwyane is on the plane and Dwyane doesn’t know,” Windhorst said. “So they’re on the flight. It’s like a five hour flight from Vegas to Miami. They are on a Nike jet. Dwyane is catching a ride back to Miami. Literally on the plane, Lee Jenkins’ first draft of the story was emailed in and they’re editing the draft sitting there with Dwyane on the plane and with Dwyane not knowing. Lee Jenkins knew before the Cavs, he knew before Dwyane Wade.”
Windhorst then explained that James’s agent, Rich Paul, had indicated that James didn’t want Wade to bear the burden of informing the team of the decision:
“Of course I asked, why wouldn’t you tell Dwyane?” Windhorst said on the podcast. “If you guys are the greatest of friends, why wouldn’t you tell him? And the answer that Rich Paul gave me, I thought at first it sounded kind of fishy. But the more you think about it, the more it’s true and tells you how they thought about this. They couldn’t ask Dwyane to carry that secret. It would have been unfair to put him in that position because obviously the Heat would have expected him to tell them.”
In reality, Windhorst believes that the team was already expecting it after negotiations in Las Vegas between James and the duo of team president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg went nowhere:
“The Heat believe that when they walked into the room, they believe LeBron had already made up his mind,” Windhorst said. “I don’t think there’s anything you can ever say to them that would change their mind. And LeBron will say, ‘I didn’t have my mind made up. I still was considering it.’
“LeBron’s people just say that that’s not true and that they didn’t make their final decision until literally the day before the essay came out. They’re never going to agree on that.”
Wade himself was asked about the situation just weeks after it took place in July 2014, with the former Heat legend saying at the time that the simple body language by James was enough to give him an answer:
“I went to sleep knowing,” Wade said. “He called me the next day, but I knew then. Obviously he still had to say the final yay or nay, but I knew. I could tell. As his friend, I’m just supportive. As crazy as that might sound, I’m supportive of my friends doing what makes them happy. Obviously, same thing with him in this situation. You’ve gotta do what makes you happy — selfishly do what makes you happy. The decision to go back home was that.”
The decision by James ended up costing Wade money for the 2014-15 season. That’s because prior to the decision, Wade had agreed to take a $3.6 million pay cut from the Heat in order to fit a potential James signing under the team’s salary cap. After earning $20 from the team last season, he then signed a contract with the Chicago Bulls.