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Dave Hyde: LeBron learned his lessons from Riley — and wants to show some this Finals

By Dave Hyde, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Basketball

LeBron James was asked Tuesday what he thought of Heat president Pat Riley, and his initial answer was a safe and non-committal, "That's such a broad question."

Broad questions are where these NBA Finals start Wednesday. Can the Miami Heat's fun, fresh and team-oriented run continue? Will the NBA's usual star power win out with the Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron and Anthony Davis?

And, yes, for what it uncovers and explains of this series, what does LeBron think of Riley? The answer isn't a scoreboard subject. This series isn't LeBron vs. Riley, like some morality play of Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker.

The answer also isn't found just in the six years since LeBron left the Heat to continued success. The broad answer begins with LeBron's arrival to the Heat in 2010 with The Decision in the first place. LeBron understood Riley had something he needed.

"My college education," LeBron recently called his four wonderful years inside the Heat. OK, three wonderful years. The fourth and final 2013-4 season was a great but exhausted team that lost its joy. And LeBron plays with a joy for basketball more than some villainous fury.

Stick a pin in the timeline of LeBron's evolution from a great player to a great champion - the player the Heat now face - in those four years of The Big Three. Don't take my word for that. Take his.

 

"Being a part of that culture allowed me to grow, allowed me to see what it takes to not only compete for a championship but also to win a championship," James said. "So it definitely put me in a position where I knew what it took. I saw what it took. But also I fit that culture as well because of how hard I worked. It was a perfect match for those four years."

He was 25 when he arrived, a fact not lost on him, no matter if he was an ascendant star already in the sports hierarchy. "I was still a kid and still trying to figure out who I am as a person and as a man, growing while still trying to compete for a championship every single year," he said.

LeBron could have learned some details anywhere. He didn't have an inside when he arrived to the Heat. That was exposed when he couldn't punish 5-foot-10 Dallas guard J.J. Barea in the Finals. He fixed that in one offseason.

A larger change was philosophical more than tactical, thanks to the creative mind of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. He introduced LeBron to a positionless game, not tethering him as a No. 3 shooting forward or No. 2 shooting guard.

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