Losing 2014 NBA Finals pushed LeBron James to leave Miami Heat

Oct 30, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 30, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

After the Miami Heat lost the 2014 NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs, LeBron James decided to extend his championship window by signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Had the Miami Heat won the 2014 NBA Finals, LeBron James might still be in South Florida, according to a book about his return to Cleveland written by Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin called “Return of the King”.

An excerpt from the book published on ESPN.com provides come insight into James’ thinking after the finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

James knew that he was going to exercise his option and enter free agency, but he didn’t know he was going to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He had always thought he might end back up in Ohio, but it wasn’t until after the 2014 NBA Finals that he had come to that decision.

"But it was not a decision James had reached by the start of free agency. Just a few weeks earlier the Heat had been tied with the San Antonio Spurs 1-1 in the Finals after two games. Going home, with the home court advantage, it seemed like a third consecutive title was within reach. Had that played out, James would likely have elected to stay in Miami to defend another title. Instead the Heat lost three straight games and looked old and emotionally spent in doing so.The outcome of the Finals had helped push going home to the front of James’s mind. […] And he could try to change the course of his career by trying to lead the woebegone Cavs to a championship. He’d followed the team and its moves, and he thought it would be possible."

The idea that losing the finals drove James out of Miami isn’t new, but this account does answer a key question: Did losing the finals give James the out he needed to leave the Heat, since no one would have been able to leave after winning three-straight championships? Or did he decide after losing the finals that he couldn’t go one with a core of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and a veteran bench?

According to this book, it seems like the latter. If the Heat had beaten the Spurs in 2014, James would have had no reason to leave because there wouldn’t have been as much doubt about his future. James clearly realized something during those finals, and may have seen a young Kyrie Irving in Cleveland and thought he could win with him more long term.

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It seems to have worked out for James, who has been to two-straight finals and beat the Warriors for a championship last season, thanks to Irving hitting the game-winning three-pointer. But the Cavaliers are showing signs of aging now, just as the Heat did in 2014. And with a power house in the West ready to claim the throne, it might take another drastic move by James and the Cavaliers to extend his championship window.