LeBron Won a Title in Cleveland Because of Everything He Learned in Miami

LeBron Won a Title in Cleveland Because of Everything He Learned in Miami
Photo by George Martinez

Miami Heat fans have been on a roller coaster of emotions this week watching LeBron James win a title in Cleveland. Some were happy for LBJ. Others joined #TeamPetty to root hard against the Heat's former savior.

Wherever you land on the spectrum, the simple fact is that King James wouldn't have been able to bring a title back to Ohio without his four years in Miami. Here's what LBJ himself said on that topic when he announced his move back north:

"Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go. I will always think of Miami as my second home. Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I'm doing today."

More recently, LeBron has talked about using the "blueprint" he learned in Miami to bring Cleveland its first championship in 52 years.

"I knew what I learned in the last couple years that I was gone. And when I came back, I knew I had the right ingredients and the right blueprint to help this franchise get to a place we've never been. That's what it was all about."

But what exactly does that blueprint entail? What precisely did he learn in his four years with the Heat? We did some digging and found all the times people around him, or LeBron himself, have broached the subject. Here's what he did learn in the 305:

LeBron Won a Title in Cleveland Because of Everything He Learned in Miami (2)
Photo by Alex Broadwell

LeBron James was already the best player on the court every night before he got to Miami, but his tenure with the Heat helped bring his intangibles up to speed with his God-given athleticism. "Playing for the Heat has put him over the top mentally in terms of maturity and confidence," said Mike Brown, who coached LeBron in Cleveland from 2005-10.

"LeBron has always been extremely intelligent and mature for his age," Brown told reporters. "But being in Miami matured him in a new way."

You might occasionally hear even the most educated NBA fan say "it's a players' league" in terms of what builds a contender, but that's a simplistic and incorrect observation. Talent wins many games, but having the most talented and most prepared players can mean the difference between folding down 3-1 in the NBA finals and having the will to come back.

"He really didn't know that much about what it took to win a title back then," said Joe Tait, the Cavaliers' radio voice from 1970-2011.

LeBron Won a Title in Cleveland Because of Everything He Learned in Miami (5)
Photo by George Martinez

The faces changed when LeBron moved on to Cleveland from Miami, but the skill sets of LeBron's new teammates have proven to be quite similar to those the Heat provided. LeBron's biggest moves in Cleveland have been to trade unproven and, more important, unreliable young players for proven veterans who can fill a role. Gone were the players who could one day become LeBron James' running mate. In came role players who could fill that job title today, regardless of the draft compensation or money it cost. 

In Miami rosters are constructed on a year-to-year basis. Winning isn't the most important thing — it's the only thing – and worrying about a move that might help you win five years from now isn't always the top priority. 

"Cleveland was mostly a rebuilding situation for LeBron," former Cavs General Manager Wayne Embry told Cleveland.com last year. "In Miami, the total emphasis was on winning. It really was an education for him."

During his first stint in Cleveland, LeBron had come to accept losing. Hell, he did grow up in Cleveland, where losing is practically a birthright. But in Miami, he learned that not only is losing an unacceptable reality, but also it's not even considered an option. 

"It was such a different atmosphere," Embry said. "Winning a title was the total focus. It was expected."

Dru Joyce II, LeBron's childhood coach, believes LeBron's exit to Miami was necessary because he needed a mentor who instilled confidence in his game but also demanded he work harder than anyone else so there was nothing left to chance.

"No disrespect to Mike Brown or anyone with the Cavaliers, but they didn't have anyone with their franchise like [Miami team president] Pat Riley," Joyce said. 

"[Miami] imparted a vision of winning in a way that made it seem more real than in Cleveland."

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