By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
Dwyane Wade’s #OneLastDance tour took one of its final stops in Los Angeles this week, the most publicized of what will be many “final” moments for the Miami Heat legend this season.
Whereas in many final lap seasons a player creates headlines by getting long-overdue or surprising props from a rival, Wade’s send-off from the L.A. Lakers, who he did play in many hotly-contested games against Kobe Bryant, was all about saying goodbye to a friend — the new King of L.A.
Wade played against LeBron James in a rather epic regular season battle for what should be the final time of Wade’s career (save a rather unexpected meeting of the Heat and Lakers in the Finals), and the celebration of their friendships is definitely note worthy.
Wade and James’ partnership is one that survived through years together and even more years apart, it actively shifted the NBA culture, and created a trend that NBA players adhere to today, especially by utilizing their rights as free agents and masters of their own destiny.
But Wade also played a direct role in the development of the game’s greatest player today — Wade helped make James a NBA champion and in doing so elevated his status to that of an all-time great and a relative King himself in the league — that is a narrative that should not go unnoticed.
Prior to the Wade, James and Chris Bosh collaboration in Miami, Wade was arguably the most established star out of all the top players in the league-changing 2003 draft, he had no equal postseason success given his Finals MVP from his Shaq-aided 2006 title run where in one of the biggest NBA Finals comebacks ever against the top seeded Dallas Mavericks Miami overcame an 0-2 deficit to win four straight games and claim the championship.
D-Wade’s championship performance was one of the most legendary in history in which he averaged 35 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists with a 39-point average during the deciding 4-game win streak.
Not to mention, Wade accomplished that championship and Finals MVP in his third year in the league, became the first to win a championship in his celebrated draft class and made the Heat relevant as a championship franchise that top free agent talents would want to play for.
Many can argue that the man known as “Flash” did not need King James to annex land in “Wade County,” as Wade himself was a self-made man in more ways than James during that time, but James needed his friend and Wade welcomed him in, introducing him to not just championship culture, but to what it is like to sacrifice your personal desires for a greater good.
Since leaving Miami James has said that his stint there was his college years, a time that he needed to grow as a player. With big brother Wade helping James in his lessons we got to see one of the greatest Finals appearance streaks in league history develop.
Wade took sacrifices to let James lead the Heat and showed him how to be the ultimate teammate. Without Wade and the lessons of wisdom he passed to his friend, James could very well not have multiple championships. James realizes that and acknowledged that after the game Monday.
“Obviously, without D-Wade in my career, I wouldn’t be sitting here with this résumé that I have,” James told ESPN.
“Individually, I think I would still be doing my thing individually, but as far as me accomplishing the team goals that truly mean most to me? Twenty-seven wins in a row. Four straight Finals. Two back-to-back championships. It goes without saying. I wouldn’t be able to accomplish it without him.”
James also commented on the narrative of friends not playing on the same team together.
“Some people say you shouldn’t be friends with your competitors because you still can’t compete,” James said. “And I think people have seen that and recognize that even with our friendship, we competed against each other, we pushed each other when we were playing against each other.”
D-Wade also commented to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne about the shifting of the friendship culture brought on by Miami’s Big Three.
“We definitely were a part of shifting the culture…Even from the start with us,being so close, going out to eat, going to movies, etc., then go out and play each other the next night. People didn’t understand that at first. But we shifted the culture of how you can still compete, you can still be great and push each other. It’s not for everyone.”
The friendship between Wade, James and Bosh changed the narrative of traditional cold or even unsportsmanlike conduct among rivals who come into the league in similar years or with similar backgrounds.
In choosing a new way to do business, Wade and James they went to four straight Finals and won half of their trips. Now, every free agency period requires the discussion of relationships between top free agents and whether or not friendly players are participating in recruiting each other to play on their current teams or for another team entirely.
The “friendly competition” culture has come to define life in a league where players set the tone more than management and it’s all thanks to three legendary friends who took a chance on each other in 2010 and that chance only worked because of one man — Dwayne-Wade.
Joshua M. Hicks is the lead columnist of WARR