ESPN’s Wright Thompson recently wrote a detailed profile of Miami Heat president Pat Riley. Among the more interesting revelations of the NBA executive is the difficulty he experienced when LeBron James opted out via free agency and decided to return home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Riley says he almost went after LeBron in the same way Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert did when Bron left the Cavs for Miami, but he was talked out if it. Remembering the phone call he received from Bron, Riley said:
I was silent. I didn’t say anything. My mind began to just go. And it was over. I was very angry when LeBron left. It was personal for me. It just was. I had a very good friend who talked me off the ledge and kept me from going out there and saying something like Dan Gilbert. I’m glad I didn’t do it.
Riley is an extremely competitive man, as are most NBA execs, owners, coaches, and players. Not saying anything inflammatory about LeBron was a wise choice and he’s lucky he had someone “talk him off the ledge.” As human beings we all take certain things personally that’s just how we are wired emotionally. However, let’s caution ourselves with giving Riles too much praise for restraining himself.
Riley and any other NBA executive will tell you, they make tough decisions daily in spite of close personal relationships. At the end of the day, it’s a business. Funny that doesn’t seem to apply to the players when they exercise their own agency and do what they think is best for themselves. Riley’s initial feeling of taking it personal is understandable but to consider doing something similar to what Gilbert did is unconscionable. Gilbert’s comic sans font letter was petty, and had a racial undertone. We need to continually ask the question, why is it a business decision when execs and owners decide something, but when a player does, it’s something else?