Forevermore when the Cleveland Cavaliers play the Miami Heat the NBA page will turn backwards to 2010-14 and everything LeBron James and Dwayne Wade accomplished together and everything they failed to get done. The owners lockout was in part because of what James and Wade did by circumventing the process and cutting the owners out of the players boardroom- having the nerve, and more importantly the capital, to negotiate for themselves and by themselves. It was a beautiful period in the NBA, one that broke the hearts of Cleveland, but in the long view one that could only have a narrow window in which to maneuver from. It was an idea and then it was a reality and then it was over.
If LeBron James is skilled at any one thing it is knowing when to cross one bridge while leaving another bridge behind. The soul of James is never to inflict damage so when he leaves he makes sure he doesn’t leave with malice. His friends are his friends. His acquaintances are his acquaintances. It is that simple. James is about something far greater than any current NBA player. He has to build a body of work that supports his talent as one of the greatest players in NBA history and for the most part he has done that. But as everyone frequently points out, James has lost twice more Finals games than he has won. Once upon a time, Miami served its purpose, to get James in the conversation about greatest of all time. Now the Cavs have their own James narrative, asking him to do what no athlete has done here in half a century. Become immortal.
When Wade and James play tonight, their teams will try to figure each other out. They may meet in the Eastern Conference Finals in May, or perhaps, sooner than that. The Heat have done a nice job post-James of adding new pieces that create a greater collective whole. Gerald Green is a dynamic athletic and three point shooter. Goran Dragic is a quality point guard. Hassan Whiteside handles the middle. Justise Winslow has a bright future. Because the Heat have puppeteer Pat Riley pulling the strings, they will be in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes this summer; that is just how Riley does things.
The Cavs are the favorites, loaded at every position, their real enemy is health. Can they make it through the season? Can they make it through the playoffs? The Cavs have never known a LeBron James the way we have seen him these last few games, laying on the court because of a bad back, depending on Kevin Love to do more and not less.
At 30 years old, with as much as he has done in the league and for the league, with the minutes and punishment and even the heartbreak, LeBron James is an old, still in his prime, best player but the physicality is beginning to chip away so it looks something like death by paper cuts. An injury here, an injury there. He still is exceptional, and still overwhelms but it is not as inconsequential as it used to be: there is a price.
Dwayne Wade knows all about trying to stay healthy and trying to stay the same. The debate is continual enough to be annoying: how many games will Wade play? But Amin Elhassan of ESPN posed a far more interesting question: who has more to worry about on the injury front, the Cavs or the Heat? The Heat only have Wade to consider while the Cavs, it seems, have everyone.
An October game doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, what they have accomplished is already written in NBA history books. They changed a culture, they empowered players, they won two titles together.
Now the question is pretty basic. Away from each other, what do they have left?
photo via llananba