MIAMI -- Apparently LeBron James couldn't come up with the speaker's fee, so he didn't get his private audience with Pat Riley. Instead, he found himself, like many, as just another spectator.
That's what made Riley's season-ending Miami Heat soliloquy so surprising, that it was delivered to a mass audience, instead of an audience of one.
And Riley's litany of previous NBA championship icons who stood their ground? It wasn't exactly accompanied by the complete list of what those players also had alongside.
With the term "Big Three" so fashionable, we tend to package our perspective in such a manner. Only the San Antonio Spurs were not merely the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but also the youthful Finals MVP contribution of Kawhi Leonard. And the most-recent Boston Celtics championship roster was not just the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, but also the youthful impetuousness of Rajon Rondo. Same for what Larry Bird-Robert Parish-Kevin McHale had alongside. Same with Magic Johnson-James Worthy-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
It takes a village to win championships. Always has.
So while Riley can implore LeBron to step forward and stand up to the challenge, unspoken was what Riley can do.
The reason Ginobili can comfortably shift to sixth man is because of the emergence of Leonard. The reason Allen didn't have to do as much for the 2008 Celtics was because of Rondo.
Yes, Michael Jordan largely got by without more than two All-Star partners in the Scottie Pippen-Horace Grant/Dennis Rodman mix, and Kobe Bryant made much out of relatively little with the Los Angeles Lakers' 2009 and '10 title teams, but there almost always were adequate spare parts alongside.
And that's what LeBron has a right to question about the Heat moving forward, about where the Heat's Kawhi is going to come from, after Dwyane Wade missed 28 games during the regular season and then shot 7 of 25 for 21 points over the final two games of the Finals.
Courage has nothing to do with continuing to move forward with Pippen-Grant/Rodman or with what Magic had alongside with the Lakers or Bird with the Celtics. There was a continual guarantee of complementary talent with those perennial Finalists.
Yes, times have changed. The cap arrived and then the tax. But while Riley and Micky Arison may have been blindsided by the punitive personnel rules in the 2011 collective-bargaining agreement, they were not by the fact that Wade would turn 33 in the season following LeBron's first opt-out window, that a Chris Bosh being moved out of the post to accommodate James' driving and Wade's slashing might not be the same player.
What Riley urged was faith, a trust he has earned based on how he previously turned precious little into Alonzo Mourning and then Tim Hardaway and then Shaquille O'Neal, and then mere cap space into the Big Three.
Now? Now the cupboard is bare, which is why among the considerations essentially is going to James, Wade and Bosh for a loan, for the cap space to make good. And there is nothing wrong with the Big Three saying no if they don't share the same outlook on Riley's next start-up.
LeBron James has earned the right to carry the title of CEO of The Heat Offseason.
And he has the right to have Pat Riley on the clock, no matter how impassioned Riley was with his appeal.
The Heat did not give these 2014 early-termination options blindly. It is within the right, at this moment, of all Big Three to question the vision going forward.
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