Dan Le Batard was a guest on the Dan Patrick Show this morning, and, in the upset of the century, they spent a bulk of the time discussing LeBron James. The entire conversation was very interesting, and well-worth a listen, but it was particularly noteworthy when Le Batard asserted that LeBron made the move more for PR purposes than to optimize winning championships, and that the Heat organization was ostensibly blindsided by the decision:
Le Batard: This was a masterstroke as a PR move … I would say it’s more of a PR move than a basketball move. Although you can make the argument for Cleveland’s young roster, he’s going to be headed into the playoffs, in all likelihood, with a lot of guys who’ve never played a playoff game before. But it was perfect PR move…
I found it interesting that Chris Sheridan, when he broke this story, was talking in sportswriter narrative — the mythology of going home, and the Rust Belt. I found that interesting because I didn’t think it could be right, that a sportswriter and an athlete would both have the sportswriter narrative. But, man, these guys planned that part out beautifully, so it doesn’t become about the way that his entourage feuded with Pat Riley at the end.
Patrick: When do you think he made up his mind?
Le Batard: Oh, it was before the end. I don’t think he does what he did — I don’t think he does that again to Cleveland, you know what I mean? — allows 10 days of hope, where he crushes Cleveland again. I think he knew before this. The Miami Heat have taken the high road on this, but it’s why they were behaving like a team that was going to get him — because they were misled by his guys.
Patrick: What do you mean?
Le Batard: The Miami Heat were behaving like a team that was gonna get him back. They were doing everything, like they were gonna get him back. That’s because the agent for LeBron James [Rich Paul] made them feel like they were gonna get him back. You can’t have two teams behaving like they were gonna get him back.
In my opinion, the PR and basketball aspects of LeBron’s decision are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and it’s easy to see how he would look at a team with substantial resources tied up in Dwyane Wade, whose knees were cruelly unable to support offense or defense in the recent NBA Finals, as one that had less upside over the next several years as the Cavs team he joined.
Nevertheless, Le Batard has cultivated a long enough relationship with Mickey Arison and Pat Riley that this is not just a random theory, but is a pretty specific thing that he was told directly about how the Heat organization feels. (If you want elaboration on LeBron’s entourage’s disagreements with Riley, Stephen A. Smith did a good job of explaining that background story on Le Batard’s radio show on Friday.)
What Le Batard — who is conveying the Heat’s viewpoint on this but has been decidedly appreciative of LeBron’s tenure in Miami and not bitter about his departure in print — wanted to know most is when LeBron knew he wouldn’t be returning to Miami:
I think it was before [the NBA Finals]. Here’s part of the problem, though, Dan. It’s hard for me to know what’s true and what isn’t, because people are talking about so many different things. But one thing that surprised me, and I heard it from a number of places, is that LeBron’s wife and LeBron’s mom didn’t want to actually go. When he was talking about going back and telling Pat Riley that he needed to talk to his family, he was talking about La Familia — the group of guys around him. Again, I don’t know what to believe, and I need to talk to LeBron about it. And get honesty from LeBron about it, and I’m not sure those things are possible given the way that they’re spinning these things in a PR way. But I’ve heard in too many places — not one or two — that Savannah didn’t actually want to go.
Ideally, the fallout from this storyline will remain compelling until we’re a good deal closer to the start of football season. Some more poignant leaks from the Heat organization about diva LeBron behavior would surely be welcome.
Related: Dan Le Batard: LeBron Chasing “Ghosts”, Michael Jordan Revered With “Revisionist Blindness”
Related: LeBron’s Decision Will Presumably Be a July Staple