Miami gave LeBron James his ‘college education,’ says former MIA assistant David Fizdale on pod

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James greets his former Miami Heat head coach, Erik Spoelstra. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James greets his former Miami Heat head coach, Erik Spoelstra. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Former Miami Heat assistant coach David Fizdale provided plenty of insight into the LeBron James-Heat years on a recent podcast appearance.

Whether or not Cleveland Cavaliers fans such as myself were big fans of it shortly and even a good stretch after “The Decision,” LeBron James‘ Miami Heat days were successful. James began his run of going to eight straight NBA Finals by doing so each of his four seasons with the Heat, which resulted in James’ first two championships.

In his Miami days, which were filled with scrutiny during his first season in Miami it seemed especially, albeit there was much less from there, it was still undoubtedly crucial for James. Being around, frankly, a winning organization in Miami, was key for James, and Dwyane Wade seemed to be instrumental in the development of James from the leadership perspective.

James was of course already an unbelievable player when he came to Miami. In his four years with the Heat, LeBron had 26.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.7 blocks per game.

He would end up with back-to-back MVPs in 2012 and 2013, of which he had back-to-back NBA Finals MVPs as well in Miami’s victories those seasons over the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.

Swinging back to that winning culture/leadership element around Wade and others, though, it truly was a turning point in James’ career from a mental standpoint, too.

Along those lines on a recent podcast appearance, former Heat assistant David Fizdale showed how those Miami days were invaluable for James’ career.

On a recent appearance on The Knuckleheads Podcast with Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles, former Miami assistant coach/eventually associate head coach David Fizdale alluded to how James’ career was helped immensely by those Heat days.

That’s mostly what jumped out from my perspective, and the pod touched on topics such as how Fizdale got into coaching, his Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks head coaching stints, along with Knicks youth.

What was the crucial part of the pod featuring Fiz to me, though, was the LeBron-Heat element and how that affected his career, and the turning point in that run with them.

One of the key soundbites from Fizdale regarding LeBron James and that “turning point,” in Miami’s run was before the second season of that stretch, Dwyane Wade told LeBron “this is your team,” and we’ll get into more on what Fiz told Richardson and Miles on that. He first noted how that Heat team in 2011-12 has such a “level of commitment” in a lockout-affected campaign and how they were “willing to sacrifice,” leading to this.

"“And I’ve told this story a lot but I just really believe it was the key to us taking the next step. It was, you know, D-Wade, you know, came to me, uh, before practice one day, and was like ‘Listen. I’m going to tell this dude that it’s his team, because he obviously doesn’t see that it is his. And, so, I think he needs to here it from me, cause he’s givin’ me too much respect. Like this dude’s the best player in the world, he’s gotta, this is his now.'”"

Fizdale then responded by telling Wade to essentially give LeBron that news, and this is what ensued in that exchange, via Fiz to Richardson and Miles.

"“And sure enough, Bron comes in the gym, we’re shooting free throws, it’s just us three in the gym. And uh, and D-Wade kinda looks at me and he, Bron shoots and he holds the ball and he goes, ‘Man, this is yours.’ And Bron kinda looked at him like he didn’t know what he was talkin’ about at first and he was like, ‘Bron. This is your team. I’m here to help you now.”‘"

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Fizdale then hit on how Wade said this essentially will always be “Wade County,” as in the Heat in general seemingly, but for the rest of their tenure together, that it’s James’ squad and Wade will follow and support him. Fiz then told Richardson and Miles that following that exchange, “it was like, you could just see like a weight was taken off of Bron.”

That said it all to me regarding that with the team dynamic, really, and the Heat would go on to win that ensuing NBA Finals, and as Fizdale highlighted, James seemed fully ready to roll after Wade passing the torch to him.

Fizdale noted how plenty of the Heat’s success was due to head coach Erik Spoelstra’s switch-heavy defense, too, along with moving Shane Battier to the 4 predominantly and eventually, Chris Bosh to the 5, when healthy. But those comments involving James’ leadership dynamic following that Wade exchange was huge to me from this pod.

From there, the other key soundbite from the interview, mainly from the LeBron James perspective, for me as a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, was how the Heat helped Bron’s career, and gave him his “college education,” in regards to his career and fully buying into a culture more, from Fiz’s viewpoint.

After James was a bit heated about something and apparently wanted some people to come into the Heat’s locker room at some point, Fizdale recalled how once it was only Udonis Haslem and Wade in the locker room, and emphasized how Haslem hit on that can’t be the case in their locker room and that essentially, LeBron needed to fully buy into Miami’s team way.

Here was more on that from Fiz again in discussing that with Richardson and Miles, after stressing how Haslem was the embodiment of Heat Culture and sacrifice, if you will. Plus, Pat Riley, the president and former head coach of the Heat, has his imprint all over in that way.

"“So, you know, when Bron started to see, ‘Wait a minute, so Pat’s tellin’ me this, Spo’s tellin’ me this, and now, my main — U.D. and D-Wade’s tellin me this — I ain’t got nowhere to go. I gotta buy into this.’ And so I really think that’s why Miami was the absolute best place for him to go get his college education, because he needed people that were was gon’ say no to him, to really get him to understand what winning was.”"

Fizdale from there alluded to how that experience, and with being around that buy-in in Miami and that culture seemingly was invaluable for James and how that winning enabled him to carry that mindset to Cleveland.

Of course, us Cavs fans and NBA fans in general will never forget that storybook 3-1 NBA Finals comeback James, Kyrie Irving and the Cavs had to beat the Golden State Warriors in 2016. LeBron and the Cavs, albeit not with Irving in the last season leading into it, made four straight NBA Finals appearances from 2015-2018, all against the Warriors.

So again, though, these comments from Fizdale about James and that Heat dynamic definitely stuck out to me as a Cleveland Cavaliers fan because whether or not it was an ideal scenario initially, those Miami Heat days paid off for how James and the Wine and Gold delivered in his return. It probably was a true “college education,” for LeBron, as David Fizdale hit on.

Currently, it will be interesting to see what plays out for James now in the upcoming postseason in the Orlando bubble, of which his Los Angeles Lakers are the first seed in the Western Conference. This season thus far, he’s again been outstanding with 25.5 points, a league-leading 10.3 assists, to go with 7.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals per contest. I’d expect James to be ultra-sharp come the postseason in the bubble, too.

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I’d imagine LeBron James’ leadership nuggets he took from Wade and others seemingly back from those Miami days will be applied still to some extent, even with mostly a veteran team, in any case.