The relationship they formed, nurtured and maximized to the championship fullest was captured in all its glory nine years ago this month on a sensational play that took maybe six seconds. Dwyane Wade grabbed a loose ball and ran up court, leading a rather routine fast break and then, chemistry happened.
He gently tossed a short, no-look bounce pass that for a microsecond went to a ghost, at least until LeBron James, trailing the play in full sprint, appeared and scooped the ball. Wade didn’t see LeBron behind him … he just knew. LeBron didn’t call for the ball … he just knew.
As LeBron elevated and cupped the ball for a tomahawk dunk, Wade kept running forward and spread his arms before the crowd, as if to say: This is how we do it.
That finish was immortalized by an Associated Press photographer seated underneath the rim named Morry Gash. The image instantly went viral, causing witnesses to gasp at the image’s snarky, arrogant and amazing glory. Mostly, though, that sequence symbolized the blossoming bond between LeBron and Wade early in their time together with the Miami Heat.
And, it suggests what’s currently percolating in Los Angeles with the Lakers. LeBron has a new basketball bud, and the process with Anthony Davis is starting to look strikingly familiar.
Theirs is an already devastating combo that has the Lakers scorching through the early NBA season with the best record in the West. ‘Bron and The Brow are both entertaining and effective, a combination that certainly works in L.A. (which expects both). This is more of the peanut butter-and-jelly variety than fingernail meets blackboard in terms of two forces blending in beautifully. They share the same ideas about how to play the game as one, when to defer (and when to take over) and why there’s no need for ego or one-upmanship.
It’s a tag-team, your-turn-my-turn type of existence, sprinkled with an ability to recognize each other’s tendencies. Oh, and it helps that they like each other as people.
Longtime Laker witnesses might feel the urge to compare this to Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, but a more apt linkage is LeBron and Wade, whose on-court kinship spilled over into their personal lives, and to this day they still refer to each other as brothers from other mothers.
“We had something special,” James said.
And now, with Davis?
“Everything’s coming along great, maybe even quicker than we thought.”
As the Lakers prepare to play Friday in Miami -- the site of so many LeBron-Wade connections -- the NBA’s new combo is just getting ramped up (Editor's update: Lakers won game 113-110). No All-Star duo in the league is generating more wins, sizzle and per-game production than LeBron and Davis, who average a combined 53.6 points, 15.8 rebounds and 14.1 assists per game. They’re durable, too: LeBron has played in every game while Davis has missed only one.
For me and AD, it starts with us. If we’re on the same page it makes it easier for the rest of the ball club."
Much of this was expected when the Lakers traded for Davis and gave LeBron someone who was arguably his equal in terms of talent. The pairing seemed ideal because Davis is a low-maintenance star who doesn’t always demand the ball and keeps his ego hidden -- necessary tools when one plays in LeBron’s orbit. They also tend to cover each other’s weaknesses.
For example, Davis is a superior defender while LeBron, who turns 35 in a few weeks, picks his spots defensively. Davis took the Pelicans to the semifinals once, while LeBron has played in eight of the last nine Finals.
One other critical element worth noting is this: LeBron is anxious to grab at least another title here with his third team, which would be unprecedented. Davis is hungry for his first. They share the same quest, then, but approach it from different angles.
Given where they are in their careers, there was a hunch they were made for each other. After 25 games, this notion has proven correct.
“They hit the ground running right from the start of training camp,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “Both on and off the basketball court, their chemistry has been seamless.”
LeBron seemed determined to make this work after his first season in L.A. lacked a true co-star and was slowed by a groin injury. His basketball relationship with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland took a sharp turn three seasons ago when Irving demanded to a trade, mainly to escape LeBron’s enormity and strike out on his own. LeBron, like almost everyone else, was stunned as to why someone was so willing to bail on an all-time great.
That raised this issue: while LeBron is one of the most accommodating superstars in NBA history, other stars in their prime would rather be the lead singer on another team.
Davis seems cut from another cloth, however. And besides, when LeBron eventually retires (he has two seasons left on his contract), Davis will become a solo king if he so desires.
This process was months in the making as LeBron made a point to align himself with Davis off the court since last summer. He welcomed him into his home, inviting him to events and generally magnetizing himself to Davis, who in turn did the same. This same approach worked for LeBron and Wade in 2010, but back then, LeBron was joining Wade’s team and was careful not to overstep any boundaries.
“What I’m seeing here is how much time they spent together away from the court last summer and how that has impacted what’s going on right now,” Vogel said. “Even in film sessions the two are always together. They’re just building that friendship that LeBron and Dwyane had. LeBron has done everything in his power to make sure he’s going out of his way to make Anthony comfortable.”
Wade and LeBron became fast friends because their personalities were similar and therefore clicked. Wade admitted that, at times, it was difficult to ride shotgun that first season together. But he respected LeBron’s talents too much to make that an issue. It all worked as they won two championships and made four Finals together.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra recognizes what’s developing in L.A. and says about LeBron: “He’s able to morph into whatever he needs to be to bring out the best from other players. This just fits like a glove with LeBron and AD, the way they work well together. Their skill sets compliment each other.”
The Bron-Brow combo is causing defensive hell for teams: Which one gets a double team? Do you put a big player on LeBron and a shorter one on Davis or vice versa?
Last Sunday, the two combined for 82 points against the Timberwolves, which came two nights after they dropped 70 on the Blazers. Scoring only tells so much, but the way they compliment each other is nearly perfect. LeBron handles the ball, Davis impacts the rebounding and defense. They can almost sense where the other is without looking. Together, their sneaker prints are all over the floor.
“The more time you spend together, if you have the same goals in mind and you have the same drive, then organically it happens,” LeBron said.
Much of this is new to Davis, who only got a half-season’s worth of playing time with an All-Star (DeMarcus Cousins) his six seasons with New Orleans. He welcomes the change of synergy because playing next to LeBron ups his championship odds.
“I mean, he’s a tremendous teammate, great talent and takes a lot of pressure off not only me, but everyone else,” Davis said. “It’s fun to be on the floor with him.”
That’s evident from everyone who has watched this relationship take root and grow.
“It’s there, and I think it’s genuine, too, from what I can see,” said former Lakers great and James Worthy, now a TV analyst for the club. “They’ve known each other for a while now, and they have that same drive and vision about the game and how it’s played. I think they know how to monitor each other and the team constructively to where the cohesiveness remains tight.”
What’s frightening is the process hasn’t even reached a half-season. The wavelength LeBron and Wade once enjoyed can be matched with Davis, and it’s on pace to be fully maximized by the playoffs. The better it gets for Bron and Brow, the better it is for their supporting cast.
“For me and AD, it starts with us,” LeBron said. “If we’re on the same page it makes it easier for the rest of the ball club.”
There’s an important duplication taking place in Los Angeles, from LeBron-Wade to LeBron-Davis. The initial results are decisively promising. If this all keeps up, might multiple championships also follow?
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