Long before LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were tossing half court alley-oops to each other and winning championships together, they were the epitome of what this generation would deem “frenemies.”
The two future Hall of Famers became fast friends during the 2003 NBA Draft process, however as Wade pointed out in his 2006 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year article, a rivalry was soon built out of spite:
“I was like a third wheel. It was, like move out of the way, Dwyane, let Carmelo [Anthony] and LeBron take a picture. I felt slighted. I thought, I can be on these guys’ level, so what am I going to do to get there?”
What he did was turn the anger of being overlooked into one of the league’s most anticipated one-on-one matchups for the better part of seven seasons. Every time he stepped on the court against James, he went directly at his chest. It was as if his mission was not only to get on the “King’s” throne, but also to knock him off of it.
And LeBron was always up for the challenge.
In 22 head-to-head matchups James ended with a four game win advantage, averaging 29.4 points to Wade’s 27.6 — with plenty of mid-30 to upper-40 point performances between the two of them.
It really didn’t matter if they were suiting up in Miami or Cleveland, according to James in an ESPN interview. The sole focus for both guys was just as simplistic as any child’s playing in the park or the backyard: “You don’t want him to get the upper edge,” but “at the same time, [know] that we’re putting on a show not only for each other, but for the fans and whoever was watching the game.”
This was evident when they looked up in the middle of another 30-plus point outing to see that six-time champions Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were parked at the same game to watch them face off.
That’s the type of excitement that Miami Heat fans are hoping Wade can bring to the 2014-15 season. The kind of hype and motivation that can only come from being counted out time and time again.
And there is no bigger form of being doubted than having a buddy that you considered one of your very best friends leave you potentially stranded in NBA purgatory — partially to go back home and partially out of fear that your knees could not hold up after a four year Finals run.
So now that James is a Cleveland Cavalier, there should be no more excuses, because there will no longer be talk of deferring to the best player in the game to make him feel good about himself — just two “brothers” getting back to the on-court hatred that we have come to love.