MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Monday will be the final two step for two of the most successful teammates in NBA history when Dwyane Wade’s self-titled “Last Dance” season before retirement rolls through Los Angeles for a game against LeBron James and the Lakers.
“It’s bitter and it’s sweet,” James said following the Lakers’ 111-88 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night, L.A.’s last game before hosting Wade and the Miami Heat. “It’s sweet and sour. The sweet part about it is I’ve always loved being on the same floor with my brother. We struck up a relationship together at the combine in 2003, and it started from there. And the sour part about it is that this is our last time sharing the same court.”
James was the No. 1 pick straight out of high school in the heralded 2003 NBA draft class, going to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. Wade was selected No. 5 by Miami following an electric run to the Final Four with Marquette.
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram is expected to miss at least four games due to an ankle sprain, according to the team. He will be re-evaluated in a week.
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The two were Eastern Conference rivals for years before pairing up in the summer of 2010, and leading the Heat to four straight NBA Finals appearances and two championships in four seasons together. They later paired up in Cleveland for the first half of last season before Wade was traded back to Miami amid a turbulent season for the Cavs.
James’ Lakers enter Monday’s game having won 12 of their last 16 games to push their record to 16-10. Miami has won three of four, but is just 10-14 overall.
James, who turns 34 this month, entered Saturday averaging 28.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists, still very much the player he was when he won four MVPs. Wade, who turns 37 next month, is averaging 14.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
What made their bond so enduring?
“I don’t know,” James said. “Sometimes it’s just chemistry. Sometimes you can’t even explain it. And I bonded with Carmelo (Anthony) when I was in the 10th grade. I bonded with CP3 (Chris Paul) when I was in the 12th, and I bonded with D-Wade when we were both coming into the combine. Some things you just can’t explain, and that’s why we have our brotherhood.”
Anthony was the No. 3 pick in the 2003 draft and is currently away from the Rockets as his representation and the team seek a trade. Paul, who was drafted in 2005, is navigating Houston through early-season struggles.
Lakers center Tyson Chandler, who entered the league in 2001 and beat James and Wade’s Heat as a member of the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, spoke wistfully of Wade’s career.
“Honestly, the older I get and the more I’m in the game, I gain even that much more respect for these guys — the legends that we’re starting to lose along the way,” Chandler said. “Guys that mean so much to our generation. I had some crazy competitive games against Dwyane Wade over the years. He’s a legend in our game. It’s always tough when you know they’re losing, but you just embrace the moment. You cherish every moment you get to compete against those type of competitors.
“So I’m happy for him, I’m happy for where he’s at in his life. He just welcomed a new baby. You give everything you’ve got to the game and then you go on to live your life, so I’m happy for where he is right now.”
Wade’s impending exit and Anthony’s uncertain future only serve to underscore the marvel that is James’ career; he keeps dominating the game while others who came into the league alongside him retire.
“I got to keep it going,” James said. “I got to keep it going for the class of ’03, that’s for sure. So I love where I’m at right now, and D-Wade has definitely had a hell of a career, obviously. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, a three-time champion and so on and so on. I mean it speaks for itself. But what he’s done for that franchise and what he’s done for that community since he’s been drafted has been a pretty good story.”