Pat Riley suggests that LeBron James once subtly asked for Erik Spoelstra to be replaced
After seven years, Miami Heat President Pat Riley reveals that now Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James once low-key asked him to replace Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.
This bit of information was told by Ian Thomsen in his book “The Soul of Basketball” which offered an in-depth account into the behind-the-scenes happenings of the 2010-11 NBA season. This was the year that James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh infamously formed their Big Three in South Beach.
Thomsen was recently a guest on ESPN’s Zach Lowe’s podcast, where Lowe read an excerpt about the incident from the book itself:
“[I] asked how things were progressing. They just said, “We’re not feeling it, or something like that.” We talked about the typical things we have to do, have patience, all that stuff.
And I remember LeBron looking at me and he said, “Don’t you ever get the itch?”
And I said, “The itch for what?”
He said, “The itch to coach again.”
I said, “No I don’t have the itch.”
Thomsen also mentioned in the book that this happened when Riley called on James, Wade, and Bosh for a private meeting after falling to 9-8 to start the season. Expectations were high for the Heat, especially after they held a pre-season celebration featuring their newly formed trio.
As usual, the fall back would most likely be on the coach. Everybody knew at the time that Spoelstra was on the hot-seat. Rumors that Riley would eventually take over coaching duties began to surface, similar to what he did in 2005 when he replaced then Heat head coach Stan Van Gundy.
LeBron was also sending signals that he had wanted Spoelstra out, after the former infamously bumped the latter in a game early in the season against the Mavericks.
Those rumblings were, in fact, true, as verified by Riley.
At the moment, it seemed like the Heat would not live up to the expectations they set in the off-season, and that Spoelstra was well on his way to unemployment. But looking back, after two championships in four Finals appearances later, Riley’s trust in staying the course with Spo was ultimately the right move for the Heat.