Pat Riley seems to be harboring some old feelings about LeBron James leaving the Miami Heat to go back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and ESPN NBA insider Brian Windhorst thinks it has affected his dealings with the Heat president.
“I don’t think he likes me,” Windhorst said of Riley on J.J. Redick’s podcast. “We do not have a relationship. I have a relationship with many powerful people in the NBA. There’s many powerful people I can call up and have a great relationship with. He’s not one of them.”
It all dates back to the 2014 offseason, when James chose to move on from the Heat and return to the Cavs, who traded him to the Heat following “The Decision” in 2010. James won his first two NBA championships while playing four seasons for Miami, including the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.
“I think the Heat felt that I was in some way complicit in LeBron leaving, even though that’s kind of laughable,” Windhorst said. “… Because, at the end of the lockout, it became clear to me that LeBron was going to go back to Cleveland. And on this case, I did start saying it. I didn’t know when. I didn’t even 100 percent know that it was going to be in 2014. I thought maybe that he would give it one more year. I just hedged against that.”
The combination of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh seemingly ended prematurely, even though Windhorst felt it coming and reported on it.
“I think that some people in the Heat organization thought that I pushed for it or something,” Windhorst said. “I just saw it. I saw that it was going to happen. And I didn’t talk about it every day, but I did talk about it.”
James wound up bringing Cleveland its first NBA championship in 2016 and then lost in the NBA Finals the following two seasons before leaving his home state again.
Windhorst famously started covering James when the phenom was in high school in Ohio and followed him to the NBA. Their careers have been forever linked, which is why the journalist may have had the insight he did.
“I also could just tell that he wanted to go home,” Windhorst said.
James left Cleveland in 2018 to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he won a title during another shortened season in 2020. The 38-year-old hinted at retirement this spring after the Lakers were swept by the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, but it is believed he will return to play his 21st NBA season this season.
After James left, Miami won one playoff series over the next five seasons. The Heat’s renaissance began when they reached the 2020 NBA Finals and ironically lost to James’ Lakers, and they added another trip to the Finals last season when they lost to the Nuggets.
Under Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra, the Heat have reached the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the past four seasons and are doing whatever they can to remain in contention for another NBA title. They are believed to be the top option to land Damian Lillard in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers, which could create a championship-caliber Big 3 alongside Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
Maybe if the Heat can get Riley one more ring for his collection, he can let go of a possible disdain toward Windhorst.