Bird vs. Magic. Chamberlain vs. Russell. Full names aren’t needed when broaching the topic of great individual rivalries.
After being selected just four picks apart in NBA Draft 2003, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will always be linked. If the show they put on April 1 is any indication, the duo will be remembered in the same way that greats such as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird or Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell are -- outstanding players who defined a generation with their rivalry.
Numbers alone can’t paint the full picture of the showdown Wade and James put on that Saturday, but they can offer a pretty decent snapshot. King James finished with 47 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Cavaliers to a thrilling 106-99 victory over the Heat, narrowly eclipsing 44 points, nine assists and eight rebounds from The Flash. In the fourth quarter alone, the pair combined for 39 points. Whether it was a vast array of jumpers or dazzling drives to the rim, it seemed that each star had an answer for the other.
“People got a view of absolute greatness,” said Miami coach Pat Riley, who should know a thing or two about greatness after coaching Johnson. “It's absolutely beyond description. I haven't seen players do that in a long, long time."
The showdown between the two All-Stars was set up, in part, by the absence of Shaquille O'Neal from the Heat’s lineup due to a hyperextended knee. With Diesel parked on the bench, Miami’s lineup ran through Wade and he did not disappoint.
He netted 21 points in the final period alone, scoring on a drive with just under three minutes to play to give Miami a 96-95 lead. But James countered with a long jumper and a fast-break layup before Wade tied the game on a three-point play with 1:24 to go.
"One-on-one matchup, it's probably the best matchup I've been in," Wade said. "Two guys going back and forth, doing what they can do to help their team win, whether it's rebounding or passing, diving on the floor, whatever it takes to win. And this ranks up there as the best one so far."
After Wade knotted the game, James hit a runner nine seconds later and, after a miss by Wade and a defensive rebound, James got an offensive rebound off a miss by Donyell Marshall and found the forward for a slam and a 103-99 lead with 39 seconds left, securing the victory.
"We just went out and played hard," James said. "Dwyane Wade and I are competitors. A lot of people hate to see that one of us has to lose, but I'm glad that I won tonight."
Although that meeting was something special, neither player is new to putting on a dominant individual performance. It was the fifth straight 35-point game for James, who ran the streak to nine. Wade has turned in another stellar campaign as well, including a 37-point effort Feb. 12 against Detroit. He scored Miami’s final 17 points and concluded the string with a game-winning jumper with 2.3 seconds to play.
Along with Wade and James, many of the other players atop the 2003 Draft class have taken off this year. No. 3 pick Carmelo Anthony has established himself as one of the most reliable players in the clutch, hitting five game winners this season for the Nuggets. Chris Bosh, taken fourth by Toronto, made his first All-Star team this season. Chris Kaman has had a breakthrough season, helping the Clippers earn a playoff berth. Kirk Hinrich has guided the Bulls to their second straight postseason appearance and T.J. Ford has bounced back after missing all of last season to contribute heavily to Milwaukee reaching the playoffs. Even Darko Milicic, taken second by the Pistons, was a big part of Orlando’s late-season run after Detroit traded him in February.
But so far, James and Wade have been the cream of a very impressive crop, and if the early-April encounter is any indication, people will be talking about LeBron vs. Dwyane long after their careers are over.
"Wow, you call that an instant classic," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said after the game. "It's two great players taking over the game for both teams. What a show. I'm happy we won, but I enjoyed watching two great players go back and forth.”