MIAMI — It’s been exactly four years since LeBron James announced he was leaving the Heat to return to his hometown Cavaliers on July 11, 2014.
Heat general manager Andy Elisburg still remembers that day well, especially the feelings he felt immediately after learning of James’ decision to head to Cleveland. In a ESPN story written by Ramona Shelburne that chronicled James’ latest decision to sign with the Lakers, Elisburg revealed that he called Cleveland general manager Koby Altman the morning after news broke that James was leaving the Cavaliers to move to Los Angeles earlier this month.
“I called him and said, ‘Well, did the sun come up this morning?'” Elisburg said, according to ESPN. “And he said, ‘Yes, it came up.’ And I said, ‘Well, I just want to let you know it’s going to come up tomorrow too.'”
But the shock and pain that comes with losing the best player in the world isn’t that easy to overcome. Elisburg knows that.
“The night it happened [in 2014], I was so angry and emotional I was having chest pains,” Elisburg said to ESPN. “I was lying in bed and thought I was having a heart attack.”
Elisburg went on to admit that he couldn’t sleep that night, so he got in his car and drove a few hours north past West Palm Beach until he started to calm down and understand James’ decision to leave Miami.
“I got clarity about 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning: It wasn’t about us. It was about what he wanted to do,” Elisburg said to ESPN.
“I came in the next day around 9, 10 o’clock in the morning, went to the whiteboard, started putting down names and building the roster like we’d always done. You have to realize, it always ends. It never ends the way you want it to end, but it ends, and you have to start again. … But no matter what, it was an incredible four years. You won a championship, you know? Nothing takes that way.”
Heat president Pat Riley has said in the past that he was also angry immediately after James’ decision to leave the organization in 2014. But Riley has since gotten over it and come to understand James’ choice.
“I had two to three days of tremendous anger. I was absolutely livid, which I expressed to myself and my closest friends,” Riley said in a new book that was released in April written by Ian Thomsen titled, “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown between LeBron, Kobe, Doc and Dirk that Saved the NBA. “… My beautiful plan all of a sudden came crashing down. That team in ten years could have won five or six championships. But I get it. I get the whole chronicle of [LeBron’s] life.
“While there may have been some carnage always left behind when he made these kinds of moves, in Cleveland and also in Miami, he did the right thing. I just finally came to accept the realization that he and his family said, ‘You’ll never, ever be accepted back in your hometown if you don’t go back to try to win a title. Otherwise someday you’ll go back there and have the scarlet letter on your back. You’ll be the greatest player in the history of mankind, but back there, nobody’s really going to accept you.'”
After signing with the Heat prior to the 2010-11 season, James won the first two championships of his career during his four seasons in Miami. He averaged 26.9 points on 54.3 percent shooting, 7.6 rebounds and 6.7 assists in 294 regular-season games with the Heat.
James signed a four-year contract worth $153.3 million with the Lakers on Monday, days after he committed to join the franchise on July 1.