In an excerpt from their upcoming book, ESPN writers Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin report that had the Heat beat the Spurs in the 2014 Finals and secured their third straight NBA championship, LeBron James would likely have re-signed with Miami rather than returned home to Cleveland.
While the excerpt goes into detail on all of the events that led to his decision nearly a month later, I’m not surprised by this at all. Going home was a ‘legacy move’, but staying with a dynasty would have been a better one.
You don’t leave greatness. Do you know how many teams have won three straight titles over the last 40 years? Two. Michael Jordan’s Bulls twice in the 1990s and Kobe and Shaq’s Lakers from 2000-02.
LeBron would have joined that list had Miami won that third straight title. By returning to the team, it would have allowed him the chance to rival Jordan when it came to rings and being the NBA’s greatest.
After witnessing the Cavs’ incredible title run last season, it’s hard to visualize that history playing out any other way. But if you imagine LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh holding that third straight trophy three years ago, the alternate reality of a Heat dynasty becomes much more feasible.
Why would LeBron have left the chance to make history to go home and play with Kyrie Irving, who hadn’t led the Cavs to the playoffs at that point? Or potential first overall pick Andrew Wiggins? Or prior top pick Anthony Bennett, whose disappointing rookie year foreshadowed his early exit from the NBA?
A three-peat also would’ve assured LeBron wouldn’t have to deal with the pressure of returning home to “win one for the ‘Land.” The whole narrative of the “Return to the ‘Land” was completely PR spin. Fans ate it up because it painted LeBron as the hero coming back to save Cleveland from obscurity.
The reality is he wanted more control over the organization he played for. He wanted an environment where he called all the shots, had a say over front office, personnel and coaching decisions, and most importantly, an environment where his intentions weren’t constantly being called into question.
Who can blame him? He’s underpaid and by far the best player in the league. The issue is: should a team turn the organization over to a player? You run the risk of him making emotional decisions, not understanding the cap, leaving again and putting the team in a hole. This is the risk Pat Riley took by not bending to LeBron’s every will, something that he didn’t have as much flexibility to do based on the decisions that had been made in building the championship rosters of the prior seasons.
It’s hard to fault Riley for that. Despite the greatness of LeBron, the idea of him taking control of one of the most consistent and well run programs in the league would have made me uncomfortable. It’s all a moot point now, as LeBron prepares to lead the Cavs into the playoffs to defend their title. But it’s fun to imagine where the Heat would be now if he had stayed.