It was a bittersweet moment as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade spent their final moments together on an NBA court last night. The two have had careers for the history books even sharing in their experiences for a time. As the trail-blazers of the super team era, James and Wade’s presence in the league has transformed the way the game of basketball is played in the NBA, and their legacies will live on in the younger players of the league who have taken up their style of play.
Back in 2002, James was hailed as the best high school basketball player around and started getting early attention as his team was featured in a game on ESPN. In 2003, Wade was leading his team at Marquette to the school’s third Final Four appearance (first since 1977) winning the Conference USA Player of the year.
The two were then featured in the June 2003 NBA draft with James being selected as the first overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers, while Wade was chosen fifth by the Miami Heat.
In their first seasons, James and Wade were already showing promise as James took the coveted Rookie of the Year award while Wade and the Heat would take the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the playoffs. Wade then got a lucky break as the Heat acquired Shaquille O’Neal in the Summer of 2004, and his superstar power bolstered Wade to spur him on to average over 24 points per game officially making him a star.
James and Wade first became teammates in 2005 when the two were selected as NBA All-Stars where they would go on to play in every All-Star game together through 2016.
Then in 2006, O’Neal, Wade and the Heat would win the NBA Finals as James led the Cavaliers to their first post-season appearance. Wade won the NBA Finals MVP that season averaging 34.7 points during the Finals series. James, on the other hand, was the main catalyst behind the Cavs success and it seemed as though they were resisting as he pushed them higher.
In 2007, James was finally able to drag the Cavs to the NBA Finals, but it was painfully clear that he needed some help to take it all the way. The San Antonio Spurs swept Cleveland in the Finals that season showing them that fundamental team basketball beats a one-man superstar show every single time.
The Heat didn’t fare as well that season as they followed their NBA Championship with a first-round playoff sweep delivered by Wade’s hometown Chicago Bulls.
In 2009, James’ star power was white-hot as he took home his first of four MVP awards in five seasons. At this time he was making a name for himself as not just a scorer, but a legitimate playmaker as well. Many have said that James became the league’s premier superstar in this particular season, and nearly ten years later he’s still holds that position.
Then in 2010, The Decision shocked Cleveland Cavaliers fans as James announced that he was taking his talents to South Beach to join Wade and the Heat. At the same time, Chris Bosh was acquired by the Heat in a sign-and-trade that many call the first super team. James promised multiple championships to the Heat fans at the beginning of that season, and while the group fell far short of their projection, they certainly spurned the Heat toward astronomical success and super-stardom.
Miami had a tough time gelling at the beginning of that season, but Wade, James and Bosh were able to get it together taking their team to the NBA Finals losing to the Dallas Mavericks in six games.
The very next year, Miami embraced their team name and brought the post-season heat to the Eastern Conference. Against the Celtics, it was clear that James decided to end the Celtics season and led the Heat to win the series after Boston had won 3 straight games in a row.
The Heat then went on to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder for James’ first NBA Championship.
Miami rode the success wave into the following season going on a 27-game winning streak in the Spring of 2013. They went on to defeat the Spurs in 7 games in the Finals.
Unfortunately, the next season the Heat lost to the Spurs in a Finals’ rematch, and the Heat’s super-team disassembled much more quickly than anticipated with James deciding to head back to Cleveland to bring his championship experience back home.
James was finally able to bring Cleveland a championship a few years later as he led the team to Finals victory in 2016 without Wade and Bosh, replacing them with budding star Kyrie Irving instead.
After Irving forcibly left the Cavs in 2017, Wade and James briefly reunited in Cleveland, but Wade was quickly traded back to Miami at the trade deadline earlier this year. Wade announced that he would be retiring after the 2018-2019 NBA season, and James made his move to the Los Angeles Lakers meaning the two teams would only face each other twice for the season.
While Wade and James won’t share an NBA court any longer, their impact on the league will be felt forever. They shaped this current era of super-team basketball that has taken the NBA to incredible new heights not just in the United States, but internationally as well.
It’s certain that the NBA will never be the same after their impact on the league, but I look forward to seeing how their legacies impact future generations of NBA players to come.