“[Michael Jordan] can’t get the logo and if he can’t, something has to be done,” said LeBron James after a 2009 game versus the Miami Heat. “I feel like no NBA player should wear 23. I’m starting a petition, and I’ve got to get everyone in the NBA to sign it. Now, if I’m not going to wear No. 23, then nobody else should be able to wear it.”
Five years later, James is going to once again don the number that he went on national television and deemed untouchable.
Everyone from sports radio hosts to celebrity pundits will try to sell you on the jersey change being nostalgic for the fans or a subtle jab at MJ, but the truth of the matter is that going back to No. 23 probably has just as much to do with Pat Riley as his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers does.
Let me paint the picture for you. The night before James’ postgame speech, he happened upon a Jordan Brand event — for Dwyane Wade — where the slick-tongued Riley used the close circumstances to do what he does best.
As the story goes, the Heat president stood in front of “His Airness” and motivated James to retire Jordan’s number the same way Riles had done inside the AmericanAirlines Arena. Then, not so coincidentally, the next night featured Wade and King James putting on a combined 70-point show against each other, with Jordan and his Chicago Bulls teammate (Scottie Pippen) watching as they played under his retired No. 23.
This showed the Riley influence over LeBron — influence that by all accounts began to wean because of his lack of free reign within the Heat organization.
Things like the lack of knowledge about players being traded (Joel Anthony), friends being cut (Mike Miller) and not being consulted on game-to-game personnel moves were not appreciated. Neither was the seemingly less accessibility that his entourage had within Miami’s facility, as opposed to when they were in Cleveland (something Cavs owner Dan Gilbert complained about after the initial Decision).
Unhappiness with the front office ran rampant through many of James’ “frustration” comments during the 2013-14 season, but the main one slipped under the radar when he claimed that he plays for his teammates, not management. This was after the Game 5 Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs and after four years of praising management and the “Miami Heat Way.”
Riley’s postseason rant probably didn’t help, in the end, however you live and you learn. And Miami’s Godfather continues to look like the good guy while people slowly start to throw pebbles at the King’s throne for going back on his word; again.