LeBron James' post-decision interviews

July, 9, 2010
7/09/10
12:13
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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After revealing that he would play for the Miami Heat in a conversation with Jim Gray, LeBron James was interviewed by Michael Wilbon:

LeBron, congratulations on making your decision. Let's go back to the point where you talked about this being a relief. How heavy has this whole thing been the last few weeks?

It's been a huge -- it's been heavy on me a lot. Because I know a lot of people look up to me. I know what I've done for the city of Cleveland, for that area, what I've done for that franchise and all my teammates.

First of all, I want to say thanks to the whole organization, all the way starting from Gordon Gund, to Paxson being there, Dan Gilbert to Coach Mike Brown, to Paul Silas and all the teammates I've had over the years.

I'm sorry, I'm going to miss all of them, because we had something that was very special and things that you can't, at the end of the day, substitute out.

When we last heard you talk publicly a few weeks ago, you said Cleveland had the edge. When you look at the Cavaliers, LeBron, and took stock of the situation there, obviously something came up short; something was lacking. What was lacking, in your mind?

I don't even see it as something was lacking in Cleveland. Like I said, I respect their franchise and everything they've done for my friends and family, myself as an individual. And I tried to give it back to them every night, my blood, sweat and tears every night, tried to play hard for them and be the best basketball player I could be on and off the court.

I just think that the attraction to Miami with being alongside Dwyane Wade and being alongside Chris Bosh and being part of that organization and with the other guys that's going to come in, I think it's a new challenge for myself.

Did you have a chance to talk to Dan Gilbert at all in the last few days and even since making the decision?

No, I haven't. I really haven't spoke to anyone besides my team. I didn't speak to any teams, any players. I just wanted to kind of soak it in and just make sure I was making the right decision for no one else but myself.

LeBron, you've enjoyed overwhelmingly such great public relations your entire career, you're cheered in a whole lot of opposing buildings. This is probably the first time, you heard the reaction in Cleveland, where you're getting some backlash. That could continue for a while especially when you're joining a super power of a team, 1927 Yankees kind of team, is going to get booed. How do you feel about that? Because that's going to be a little transition, a little different for you.

Absolutely. I know it's going to be a transition. We're going to have to go back there twice a year and hopefully the fans will be respectful but at the same time I don't expect that to be. But I gave a lot to that organization, my talents, my seven years.

I tried to take them to places where they had never been before. But it's going to be a challenge going there and playing and being on the other end, being on the other side of the court, going into the visitor locker room, pulling in the tunnel in a bus instead of in my own car and looking courtside and not seeing my family sitting courtside. Everything. A lot of mixed emotions because of what I was able to build there in my seven years, like I said, from being an 18-year-old kid to a 25-year-old man.

Do you think if you go on and win a championship, or even several in Miami, will it feel as sweet as it would have been if you had been able to win one at home?

I think championships are championships. And you can't look at it as saying, well, if I would have did it somewhere else it would have been sweeter. Because it's a championship. And a lot of people don't get there.

When you get to that point and you win a championship you can't say, wow, I wish I would have did it somewhere else, that makes no sense because you put a lot of hard work into it to get to that point. And I have not got there yet. I'll do everything in my power to try to lead that Miami franchise to a second one.

I want to ask you about a couple other cities, places that you considered and places that were so passionate about trying to get you while they were recruiting you. Were you ever, LeBron, as attracted to New York, to Madison Square Garden, the whole mecca of basketball, Wall Street, Madison Avenue, as it appeared to outsiders that you were?

I think I was attracted to a lot of cities. And that's why I brought the six teams in that I felt like I was attracted to the most. And that was Los Angeles, the Clippers, the Bulls, the Nets, Miami and also Cleveland. I was attracted to all those cities. That's why I had that process.

But it ultimately came down to where I feel like I could win the most and also where I was going to be happy for the most part with my friends and my family.

I want to ask you quickly about Chicago, too. It was sort of commonly known your love of the playing styles of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah who played for the Bulls. When you look at that roster and those players, what did you see and what happened there as you were making that evaluation?

I mean, it's great talent. Derrick Rose is one of the best point guards we have in our league right now at age 21 and Joakim Noah is one of those players that you can't substitute for.

We don't have a lot of those guys. And with the addition of Carlos Boozer, they're going to be a really good team. They've got some great pieces. They've got a great coach in Coach Thibodeau, I believe, when I had my meeting with him, was a great guy and a great coach. He's going to have those guys real prepared and hopefully we'll see them down the line.

Pat Riley is one of the most charismatic people, I guess, in professional sports, not just professional basketball. Tell me a little bit about your meetings with him and what he was like in those sessions.

He was great. Like I said, I want to give a lot of thanks to the Miami Heat organization, Micky Arison, Nick Arison, Coach Spoelstra, and Pat for coming down and giving me their presentation and making me feel like I could be a part of their family.

So Pat has been there. He's coached a winning championship multiple times. He's played the game. He understands what it takes to be a championship team, the DNA of a championship team, and he's going to do everything in his power to make sure that we compete for championships for years to come.

I mean for multiple years to come. This won't be just no one-and-out thing.

LeBron, I'm sure you're familiar with that roster. It's a tiny one right now. They don't have many guys under contract having to clear all that cap space to sign you guys. What do you think has to be done there to put the kind of team on the floor that can contend now?

Well, I think Pat and Coach Spoelstra and Micky Arison will make sure that we have a team that can go out there and compete.

I think when you look at it when Boston came together and those three guys came together, you see K.G., Ray and Paul, but you didn't even understand the people that was around them. Nobody gave Rajon Rondo an opportunity, no one gave Kendrick Perkins the opportunity.

But when those three guys joined that team, they raised their level of play. They made sure that those guys had confidence. Now you see Rondo as being one of the best point guards we have in our league. And Kendrick Perkins, who knows if he don't go down, what Game 7 happens in the NBA Finals.

Our job as myself Bosh and Wade is to not only lift our ability as individuals but also lift the guys around us.

You played the first seven years of your career in a place where you pretty much got unconditional love. But now that's going to be over. As much pressure, LeBron, as you put on yourself to win in Cleveland, how much more pressure is going to be on you to win now that you're part of this super team? Because it would seem to me that that pressure is going to be a lot greater than it was in Cleveland.

I feel like it's not a super team right now because the team -- we don't even have enough players to fill the roster. And a team is not built on just three guys or two guys or one guy.

A team is built on all the way to the top and the owner and the gym, and the guys that's in the film room to make sure the guys are prepared, to the guys on the floor, to the guys, the custodian or the people in ticket sales. A team and a championship team is not built on just three guys or just one superstar. It's built on the whole organization and everybody having the same goal and the same goal in mind.

LeBron, with that in mind, I guess we need to get some housekeeping details. What can you tell us about the terms of the contract? Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, when I talked to them yesterday, talked about taking less money if necessary, being less than the max, in order to have some flexibility with that roster. What about you?

Well, the numbers are not finalized. I think my agent, Leon Rose, will take care of that. But all three of us are ultimately going to take less money because we wanted to all play alongside each other, and we feel like we can be great together. And hopefully Pat and the rest of those guys, Micky, can bring some guys in to help us out, which we believe.

LeBron, was there ever serious thought about taking a shorter deal, whether it was Miami or Cleveland, wherever, or does the uncertainty with the Collective Bargaining Agreement really mean that you thought you had to go for the max deal now in terms of years?

As far as years, I think the Collective Bargaining Agreement plays a lot into everyone's decision, because we know the rumors that's been going out that there may be a lockout and you have to get it now or get it. But it's not about the whole max deal because I'm not getting a max deal. The max deal would have been to stay in Cleveland and get the six years and get over $120 million.

I'm taking one less year and be getting a lot less being in Miami. But the Collective Bargaining Agreement does have a lot to play, it has a lot to play because that's the business side of everybody. And you should also think about that when you do make decisions.

LeBron, I want to ask you one more thing about this upcoming season. Clearly you go out there expecting to win a championship. But specifically, what do you expect and how hard do you expect it to be, even though you've got these great players with you. There's going to have to be some concessions made. What do you expect this first season to come out of what you guys produce in Miami?

For me, my mindset doesn't change. I've had the same mindset for the last three, four years to come out from opening training camp is right now we're getting prepared to win an NBA championship. And I did that in Cleveland, and we fell short twice or fell short even when we made the Finals.

So my mindset doesn't change. And I don't think D-Wade's mindset has changed. And we're bringing Chris to the table and his mindset is going to be the same because we all believe if we put our heart into it we can win an NBA championship.

So what do I expect? I expect to win. I expect for us to get better every day, practice, don't matter what it is. Get the guys around us to be on the same page as us, because this is a team.

But at the end of the day, all our mindsets are on winning a NBA championship or we wouldn't have came together. This is not no 55- or 60-game season where we're happy with the regular season, happy with getting out of the first round. We want to win it all. I mean, that's the only reason we play this game is to win championships.

I know you spend a lot of time studying NBA history, and obviously in NBA, greatness is measured in championships, multiple. Did you think this was the chance to give you the opportunity to win multiples? You have guys out there like, in your own generation, like Kobe Bryant, of course, with five championships. How much was looking at your peers with multiples, how much did that influence this decision?

Well, I think knowing the history of the game, knowing the history of the game. And since 1980, you look at all the teams that won, the Lakers teams, the Pistons teams, the Bulls teams, the Spurs teams, the Celtics teams, it's not just been one superstar that go out on the court and dominate the whole game and win an NBA championship. It hasn't.

You know when Magic played, he had Kareem and Worthy. When Bird played, he had Dennis Johnson and Kevin McHale and also Robert Parish. And Jordan was great. He also had Pittman. And he had Horace Grant as a great player. In the early '90s or mid-'90s he had guys like Toni Kukoc and Dennis Rodman with the Piston teams, with Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer.

I mean, I could keep on going, with Tim Duncan and Avery Johnson and David Robinson. You move on, we had Tony Parker. This is a league, you become a superstar individually but you become a champion as a team. And I understand that, and I know the history of the game.

But we're not going to end on this note, but I've got to ask you about it. Apparently I'm being told by producers that in Cleveland now there were places where they were burning your jersey. I don't know if this comes -- we've got some video of it right now. Are you surprised by this? Just as you look, if you can see that image, how do you feel about it?

I mean, I can't get involved in that. You know, one thing that I didn't want to do was make an emotional decision. And I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James and what LeBron James is going to do to make him happy.

Put the shoe on the other foot, you know, the Cavs would have got rid of me at one point. Would my family burn down the organization? Of course not. This is a business. And I had seven great years in Cleveland, and I hope the fans understand. And maybe they won't. But I'm going to ultimately be happy with the decision I've made, and just continue to be great.

Do you think you'll be able to repair some of those relationships over time?

Well, you know, for me as long as I've got a great relationship with the man above that gave me a lot of guidance in this, my friends and family that I know no matter what decision I made, no matter if I'm LeBron James, the guy that dunks basketballs that everybody see on TV or the father in guidance at home with his kids, I'm happy with that.

LeBron, anything else that you'd like people to know? I've been sitting here asking you a million questions. I mean, you've gone through quite an experience. Maybe unlike some of the other free agents, even though they had some of the same decisions to make, not quite in the same way, not with the same scrutiny, what else would you like people to know now that you've made and announced your decision?

For me, I mean, I think to the fans of Cleveland, the times that we had, the seven years we had was like no other. I mean, myself and my teammates throughout those seven years took that franchise to places where those fans had never seen.

And at the end of the day, I feel awful that I'm leaving. I feel even worse I wasn't able to bring an NBA championship to that city, because I know they've been wanting it a long time.

And to my real fans out there, I hope you guys continue to support me all the way to Miami, and I guess I'll see you guys this fall.

After a break, James was asked more questions by Stuart Scott.

In the 34 minutes or so since you made your announcement, what text message or phone call that you've gotten has impacted you the most?

Stu, I haven't even turned my phone on yet. My phone hasn't been on on purpose. I'm going to phone my mom right after this, after I'm done sitting down with you guys, hear her.

Of the handful of people that knew, because you said it was just a handful, which of those people said something to you that meant the most?

I think all the people that did know. My right-hand man, Maverick Carter. My agent, Leon Rose. Randy Mims and Richard Paul. And the lady that -- there's a lot of people in my household that I kind of look toward to on how they felt and it all came -- it was all the same.

It's what's going to make you happy. We can tell you where you should go, we can tell you what you should do, but you have to do what's going to make you happy. And that was some good advice.

LeBron, you know there are people in Cleveland who are very hurt right now, very angry; they feel betrayed. You also know there have always been people who complain that athletes make decisions because of money instead of winning. You clearly did not. You would have got more money in Cleveland. So how do you yourself come to grips with what seems like a Catch-22?

That's what happens in this business sometimes. It had nothing to do about money for me. Because, like you said, I easily could have taken the money, or I could have asked Cleveland to do a sign-and-trade and I could have got the six years and got the money. It wasn't about the money. It was about uniting with two guys, uniting with a franchise that I believe we can compete for not one year, but like I said, for these five years and maybe so on after that. So it had nothing to do with money.

More questions followed from Jon Barry:

LeBron, congrats on your decision. This is Jon Barry. How long is it going to take for you to disrobe Mario Chalmers of the No. 6 Miami Heat jersey that he's currently wearing?

I think I'll give Mario a call and see if we can work something out.

Don't pay him for it. That's usually how it works. You have to pay a guy for his number if he's already got it. But let's tell Mario not to worry about it. My biggest concern with you going down there, you and Dwyane Wade playing together. You're both unselfish players. You're both obviously two of the best three players in the NBA. How much of your game is going to change? Are we going to see the same LeBron James and the same Dwyane Wade now that you're both on the same floor?

Well, I think the only things that may change is the points per game. You know, what also may change is the minutes per game. But the way you see me and D-Wade approach the game every night and having that never-die attitude will not change. The way we play on both ends of the court will not change, we'll just be united now.

Like I said, we don't have to have the pressure of going out, scoring 30 every night, or shooting a high percentage or logging long minutes and worrying about our team suffering because of that at times.

So the way we approach the game, the same demeanor, the same grit, the same swagger to our game will not change. And that's the same thing with Chris also. His game won't change either. We're just going to raise each other's intensity up.

Seven seconds to go, Miami Heat ball, half court, timeout. What happens? The game's tied. Who is getting the ball?

Well, I think that's for coach. Coach Spoelstra is going to call the best play, put the ball in the best hands of the guy that he believes is going to make that shot. And we're going to live with that.

This is not about me downgrading D-Wade or D-Wade downgrading Bosh. We'll lift each other up. At that point in time, if D-Wade get the shot and he nail it, we're going to be with him. If he miss it, we're going to be with him. Same with Bosh. If he make it, we're going to be with him and move on to the next one. If he miss, the same way.

Or if I have the ball and I see someone open, like I've done plenty of times, if I draw two defenders and I kick it to a guy, he has to nail it. And that doesn't mean it's always D-Wade or Bosh. The same with Mario Chalmers.

If I draw a guy and Joel Anthony is under the rim, he has to be able to go up and make plays. So this is a whole team thing right here. And there's no personal agendas at all or we would have just stayed where we were. I could have stayed in Cleveland. Bosh could have stayed in Toronto and D-Wade could have been in Miami. But this has nothing to do about individual.

Going back to the Olympics. When you came back from the Olympics, I remember you were just ecstatic. You had played with these guys. I'm wondering how much of this, what we're seeing now, this final product of you guys joining forces, started then? When was this hatched and what did the Olympic experience mean to it?

I think it was something in the making. The fact that we were in the same Draft, the fact that we went through some of the same struggles on the Olympic team, and the fact that we finally was able to accomplish our goals on winning the gold medal, the fact that we all signed the same deal a few years ago. And now it's like a dream come true.

It's like everything was meant to happen this way. And on the court it's going to speak for itself, of course, but I think the friendship has been there from day one.

LeBron, on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being none, 10 being 100 percent, the statement you wanted to play with a team that was good enough to beat the Los Angeles Lakers next season, how much truth to that statement is there?

There's no truth to that. Zero. For me, I wanted to play with a team that can challenge themselves every day and give themselves the best possible chance to win for a long period of time because I believe my abilities will be here for a long time.

Henry Abbott | email

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