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Vince Thomas

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What do Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade have in store for the latest chapter in their rivalry?
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

D-Wade-Kobe matchup has seen it all over the years


Posted Mar 4 2010 10:02AM

I can dig Michael Beasley feeling disrespected by getting called a Tito Jackson. "You don't say things like that about people's craft," he said. Yeah, I dig that.

Tito couldn't sing, dance or do anything as well as an NBA player can ball. But then Beasley followed up his umbrage-taking with this addendum: "Especially when you're a playoff team."

Uh, hold up.

Technically, yes, Miami is a playoff squad. But when you're a game under .500, tussling over the last few spots in a watered-down East, I don't think you can really go around flaunting a "playoff team" badge. If we're being honest, we'd have to say that Miami is, at best, a mediocre squad.

Meanwhile, on the other coast, in another of America's other glamour cities, the Lakers are defending champs, the best of the best. I guess, in keeping with Charles Barkley's Motown analogy, it's Michael (Kobe, of course) and a bunch of Jermaines (don't sleep on Jermaine), with Phil Jackson in a Barry Gordy-Diana Ross-Smokey Robinson hybrid role.

These days, when the Lakers and Heat get it on, two of this era's great virtuosos -- Kobe and D-Wade -- are going head-to-head, leading two very different teams. It's Kobe and his defending champ juggernaut against Wade and his, um, playoff team that loses about as many games as it wins. You know what I call that? I call that some serious role reversal. Five years ago, Wade's shoes were on Kobe's feet and vice versa. It makes their recent clashes so much more compelling.

Reminisce with me for a moment...

It's pretty much a consensus that the most significant, ripple-causing personnel move of the last decade happened July 14, 2004 when the Lakers sent Shaquille O'Neal to Miami in exchange for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a couple draft picks. In effect, it ended the Lakers' dynasty and immediately made Miami one of the two or three best squads in the league -- and that's just the first couple ripples. The 2004-05 season marked Wade's superstar ascension, but it Kobe's darkest season to date.

Exactly five years ago on March 4, 2005, L.A. was 28-28, heading into a game against the 38-18 Mavs. L.A. won 108-103, but it took a Kobe Special -- 40 points, 10 in the final 2:15, eight rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals -- for the Lakers to snatch that victory. I mean, guys like Chris Mihm, Chucky Atkins, Jumaine Jones and Slava Medvedenko were logging minutes back then. A few days after the Mavs win, L.A. went on an eight-game losing streak, losing each game by an average of about 11 points. When I say it was dark, it was dark.

Kobe's Q-rating was no better than Mike Tyson's at the time. People said he was a ball-hog. People said he was a snitch. People said he ran Shaq and Phil out of town and ruined the dynasty. Rudy Tomjanovich couldn't even take it for one season, resigning after 43 games. That season, after finishing the regular season 34-48 in 11th place in the West, L.A. missed the playoffs for only the second time since 1976.

Things were different in Miami, though. Wade, Shaq and the Heat were the dopest thing going. They had Shaq -- the league's biggest star -- and Wade -- the league's fastest-rising star. While L.A. was hovering around .500 on March 4, Miami -- at 43-16, thrashing through the East like a bully through recess -- waxed Sacramento 104-83. It was the fourth win of what would be a 12-game win streak. They finished 59-23 with a No. 1 seed in a putrid East. They took the defending champion Pistons to seven games and could have won the whole thing if a strained rib muscle wouldn't have held out Wade for Games 6 and 7.

Five years ago, you knew Wade had a ring coming. You also wondered if Kobe would ever even get back to the Finals.

The next four years were jilted (Kobe turned in the most prolific seasons in two decades when he averaged over 35 ppg in the 2005-06 season, but Wade got a ring. The next season was a throwaway for both cats), until February 1, 2008. This is when the Lakers got Gasol and Wade and Miami lost their 18th of 19 games. Miami finished with the league's worst record while Kobe won an MVP and the Lakers made it back to the Finals.

The next season? Wade came back with a vengeance, turned his personal "2006 Kobe" season, but just like the 2006 Lakers, his squad was irrelevant in the contender context. He went out in the first round against Atlanta while Kobe and the Lakers won a title.

Which brings us to today, March 4th, L.A.-Miami, Kobe-Wade. It ain't 2005, is it? Kobe enters this game thinking about how it fits into and impacts L.A.'s title mission. Wade and Miami just wanna get a win, holding on to the East's eighth spot the way Sawyer was holding on to Juliet in LOST's Season 5 finale. Their teams' current narratives are polar opposites -- personal one's, too. We don't even know if Wade will be with Miami after this season. Kobe is going to retire a Laker. They are playing for franchises that in five years have done complete 180s.

A few weeks ago, after Odom put up one of his usual double-doubles in a one-point loss to the Celtics, Wade sent out this tweet: "Love watchn Lamar odom play the guy is one of the best all around players our game has seen and he does it smoove." I sensed some longing there. Remember, Wade and the Heat courted Lamar this summer. I bet Wade was watching the game thinking, "Man...I wish he was running with us."

If Miami would have stolen Lamar from L.A., he would have instantly become the Heat's second best player. On some nights, he's not even L.A.'s fourth best player.

Kobe and Wade live and play in two separate worlds these days. And 2005 seems like centuries ago.

Vincent Thomas writes The Commish column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. You can e-mail him here or follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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