“Both of those guys, of course, they want to beat each other. Why wouldn’t they?”
Those were the words of Dwyane Wade when asked by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith about the possibility of LeBron James’ Lakers meeting Pat Riley’s Heat in the 2020 NBA Finals. The former Miami superstar attempted to downplay any sort of rivalry because Riley is the Heat’s president, not their small forward. As Riley has often said, “Keep the main thing the main thing,” and that’s basketball.
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And yet, while Riley won’t have any direct impact on James’ stat lines in the upcoming series, you can bet there will be some added motivation to win for both sides.
James had four incredibly successful seasons as a member of the Heat, capturing back-to-back championships and MVP awards in 2012 and 2013. During his time in Miami, James went from the most reviled figure in the NBA after “The Decision” to crush the hearts of Cavaliers fans and a confounding 2011 Finals performance to someone who had widely earned respect as the undisputed best player in the world.
When it came time for the James-Riley relationship to end, though, it was not exactly a smooth landing.
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The Spurs dominated the Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals, sending Miami home in five games. That surprisingly efficient elimination kickstarted yet another “Summer of LeBron” with questions about where he would land in free agency.
In his annual end-of-season news conference, Riley addressed the speculation with a bold statement that appeared to be aimed at James, as Wade and Chris Bosh had both already indicated that they would like to stay with the Heat.
“This stuff is hard. And you got to stay together, if you’ve got the guts,”