Seven years ago, with the entire basketball world watching, a thick-bearded, checkered-shirt-donning LeBron James announced his decision to take his talents to South Beach to pursue championships.
In doing so, James made sacrifices to both his ego and his wallet. He was joining a Miami Heat franchise and fan base that clearly belonged to Dwyane Wade, while taking a $15 million haircut on the maximum contract he could’ve received in order to make the numbers work.
This time around, it’s Wade coming to play in James’ sandbox and making his own concessions to do so. He left $8 million on the table when he accepted a buyout from the Chicago Bulls, and then he went for the veteran’s minimum offer of $2.3 million from the Cleveland Cavaliers when Miami ($4.2 million) and the San Antonio Spurs ($3.3 million) had more money available for him.
James needed Wade in 2010 to shake off the stigma that was attached to him, fair or not, for failing in the game’s biggest moments. Wade needs James now to resurrect his reputation as a surefire Hall of Famer — perhaps the third-best shooting guard ever to play the game — after his celebrated Chicago homecoming soured.
Their initial partnership was a smashing success: four trips to the NBA Finals in four years, two NBA championships and an incredible 27-game winning streak mixed in. Not as much is expected of the pair this time around in terms of longevity, but there is still a high bar for what would be considered achievement. With Wade turning 36 in January and James turning 33 in December and both ostensibly on one-year deals in Cleveland (James has an opt-out clause this summer), the directive is championship or bust.
Winning a ring together in James’ backyard would not only fortify both of their legacies in the sport, as they would become just the 39th and 40th players to win four championships or more in their careers, but Wade also could become just as beloved in Ohio as he is in Florida. Another Larry O’Brien…