Just a week after Miami Heat president Pat Riley discussed LeBron James’ 2014 free agent departure in ways that were beneath him, another Heat legend and current Heat employee is going on record to complain about James’ move back to Cleveland.
Former Heat center Alonzo Mourning gave an interview with SLAM Magazine recently, via Pro Basketball Talk, that made it quite clear that he believes LeBron James should have returned to the Heat as a free agent last summer, because the Heat’s culture should trump winning at all costs.
Directly after acknowledging the Heat’s well-meaning insistence on returning projects like Michael Beasley to the Heat family, Mourning went on:
We had a great team for four years straight, and the reason why we had a great team was not just because we had the best player on the planet, it’s because we had the best team that bought into a culture. Everybody bought into this culture. After going to the Finals four years like that, I find it very difficult for individuals like we had to stop buying into the culture that got you four straight NBA Finals appearances. How do you stop buying into that? If you got there four years in a row, why not get back there four more times? And then four more times? Why not get back there 10 years in a row? It’s doable. And Pat Riley wasn’t gonna stop bringing pieces in to complement, you know? So why walk away from a dynasty?
SLAM: It’s just different priorities, right? It’s the mindset that the NBA Championship isn’t everything, that there’s more to it than that.
AM: Evidently. It had to be. It’s very difficult to even think about walking away from something like that. How do you walk away?
How do you walk away?
You look at Dwyane Wade, matching bits of All-NBA brilliance with injured instances that left him unable to even get up and down the court at times.
You look at Chris Bosh, due to turn 31 prior to the playoffs, (rightfully) cashing in on a contract that would leave the Heat unable to procure depth to surrounding a triptych of post-30 superstars with.
You look at a younger Cleveland Cavaliers team, flush with draft picks needed to fill out a rotation and roster, and the chance to play close to home.
And you also laugh at both Riley (“what he had here, and what he had developed here, and what he could have developed over the next five or six years here, with the same team, could have been historic”) and Mourning’s (“why walk away from a dynasty?”) comments and laugh, and laugh and laugh ...
The Miami Heat weren’t a dynasty. They were a team for the ages for a four-year turn, impressively making the NBA Finals over stout Eastern competition in each of the years James played there, but this was also a team that wasn’t truly competitive in two Finals losses, and one that needed seven games and a miraculous shot (to say nothing of a miraculous pair of misses) to win its second title.
That’s not a shot at the Heat and their accomplishments, and it’s very possible that a spate of good health and smart moves could have turned the Heat into the sort of teams that hover around a championship for the better part of a decade (read: dynasties). I’m not usually one to try to define silly concepts like what constitutes a sports dynasty, but the 2010-14 Miami Heat probably fall short of my image of one.
It’s just one throwaway interview, but for Alonzo Mourning to be judging from on high in regards to how LeBron James handles how he chooses which team he plays for, man, that’s the sort of terrible lack of self-awareness you’d probably expect from, um, a millionaire ex-professional athlete.
When it became obvious, in 1995, that the Charlotte Hornets could not afford to pay Mourning more than teammate Larry Johnson, he balked and forced a trade to the Miami Heat. After miraculously returning from a kidney disease to return as an All-Star in 2001-02, Mourning sat out the entire 2002-03 season while working through his serious ailment. When the New Jersey Nets, then coming off of two Finals appearances, came calling the next offseason with a four-year contract offer, Mourning spurned the Heat to move to New Jersey in hopes of winning a title.
But it’s not all about the championships, though, right?
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When the Nets started pinching pennies the following summer, Mourning (who missed most of his first season with New Jersey following an actual kidney transplant) then forced a trade to Toronto. The Raptors, looking to save money in the wake of trading Vince Carter for a center in Mourning that would never play for them, bought Alonzo out. Soon after, he returned to that culture in Miami and set to trashing the Nets at every turn.
From a decade-old column from Adrian Wojnarowski, who was bringing the heat even during the Bush Administration:
Where was this Alonzo Mourning on the Nets, his old New Jersey teammates were wondering. Brian Scalabrine had never seen him get back on defense this way, or run the floor this way, and it was sure suspicious how his injuries seemed to feel fine in this Eastern Conference playoff series.
"Man, he didn't play that when he played for us," Scalabrine said on the Nets' way to going down 3-0 in the first-round to the Miami Heat.
'Zo had a chance to use this season to promote his transplant cause, but he used every chance to gripe about Nets ownership, to ramble on about the double-cross of Nets management. He had come to the Nets in the first place because Jason Kidd wanted Mourning and management feared that without a center they might lose Kidd to the Spurs.
But owner Bruce Ratner stripped down the Nets, reducing payroll and forcing the trades of power forward Kenyon Martin and of shooting guard Kerry Kittles for draft picks. Ratner appeared to care little about winning basketball games, and everything about using the Nets' new arena in Brooklyn to get richer as a real estate mogul. Now, he has P.R. people working on a campaign to tell everyone that he's "got the basketball bug." Whatever. It's hard to believe.
The problem was, the contract was guaranteed one-way in Mourning's mind: In case things went wrong for them, not him. In contrast, when Mourning's kidney had given out a few games into the 2003-2004 season, the Nets never screamed that they didn't get what they signed up for with Mourning. But once things went wrong with the Nets a year later ... well, it was a different story for 'Zo.
Again, it’s absolutely fine for players like Mourning and James to chase down whatever they want. It’s the hypocrisy, here, that pains.
Mourning, as it was a decade ago, can’t pick and choose between value systems. He can’t discredit LeBron James from walking away from a supposed dynasty (full of 30-sometimes, just had its tail handed to them in the NBA Finals) with his own past in place. Just as Pat Riley can’t kvetch about stars creating their own destiny; when Pat Riley has spent the better part of 30-plus years taking advantage of stars creating their own fortunes.
Everyone with the Heat has a right to be angry at the way the last eight months have gone, but let’s try to rein it in a little, OK guys?
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