Dwyane Wade says it doesn’t matter who you name or who comes next, Michael Jordan always is going to be, to him, the best there ever was, the best there ever will be.
As for former championship teammate LeBron James? Maybe No. 3 all time, which is pretty impressive.
“LeBron when it’s all said and done, when his career is over, yes, he’s arguably a top three player of all time,” Wade said after Bulls practice Thursday. “And depending on what era you grew up in you could decide who’s one, who’s two, who’s three. But no one is going to have a perfect (placement); all the numbers are not going to match up. There’s some who don’t think Michael Jordan is the greatest. You go back to Bill Russell, you go back to Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar). So many players can be that. I felt for me, how much higher can you go? LeBron James can win 10 championships. That doesn’t make you a better player. He’s as great as it gets; now you all decide the ranking. But for me, Michael Jordan is my number one favorite player of all time.”
Wade’s comments came after hediscussed the behind-the-scenes of the infamous 2010 free agency that landed James in Miami instead of Chicago on the eve of the Cavaliers playing the Bulls in the United Center in the Bulls fourth preseason game. James is not expected to play, though Wade is. Wade spoke at length Thursday on a variety of topics connected to James, his former teammate and close friend, including the genesis of their relationship and perhaps the inevitable parting that surprisingly also saw Wade leave Miami.
“It’s tough because these guys are different players,” Wade said when asked about a Kobe Bryant/LeBron comparison. “We’re talking about different players in different times. Even though everybody crossed paths, Jordan crossed paths, Kobe crossed paths with Jordan, ‘Bron crossed paths with Kobe, we’re talking about great, great players. To me, as an individual person, Michael Jordan is my favorite basketball player of all time. No one is ever going to be my favorite like Michael Jordan. Even to this day, he’s still a superhero from that standpoint. I’ll say this: I thought at one point when we came in the league, Kobe Bryant was the greatest player in our era. That’s who we all strived for, that’s who we all looked up to.
“For me, with LeBron, as an opponent, he just…it’s tough to beat him,” said Wade. “He has a great ability to be able to get his teammates in the game and still end up with a triple double even when you’ve got him contained. He’s just one of those players where this game was made for him. Any team he’s on is going to have the ability to go to the Finals. He’s that great of a player. You’ve just got to do your best. Luol (Deng) did his best and Jimmy’s (Butler) gonna have to do his best, but just try to do your best and hope he won’t be the great LeBron that night. Hope he has an off night. But it’s hard to beat him. Obviously he’s been in the Finals six years in a row. That’s for a reason. It’s not just because he got lucky. It’s because he’s that talented and every team he’s on is a Finals team.”
Wade said he and James bonded almost immediately before the draft, though Wade, the college star, joked he understood his position pretty quickly with the man whose high school team was featured on TV more than Wade’s college team.
“I think a lot from our childhoods,” Wade said of their easy friendship. “Our similar upbringings. The struggle of our moms, the way that we had to grow up. And you know, we’re very similar in a lot of ways and you just hit it off with someone. I hit it off with him and we kind of became friends right away down in Chicago at the predraft camp. He walked in and I was in there waiting on the doctors to come in and see me for about an hour and he walked right in and they saw him right away. We kind of kicked it off from there. So it’s just something that happened. There’s no way to explain it, it just happened and you don’t look back.”
And that’s not usual for him, Wade explained.
“I like my friends to be a very small group,” Wade said. “It’s not a lot of guys that I’ve disliked, obviously. I don’t get to know people that well. Obviously my teammates, I get to know them in a sense, but I don’t want that many best friends. I’m in a couple of group chats, but not that many. I don’t like my phone being blown up like that. So I have guys that I played with for years, obviously, in Miami forever, guys like UD [Udonis Haslem]. And Quentin Richardson, I knew him from Chicago when we were growing up. And then ‘Bron, Melo (Carmelo Anthony), Chris (Bosh), these guys are my close friends. But besides that, I have a lot of guys that come through and I like them and when we see each other it’s love and it’s respect, but we’re not communicating all the time.”
And then it was over, that Heat team of the self proclaimed “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” titles gone after two, though with Finals appearances each season. Then LeBron went back to Cleveland, Wade to Chicago and Bosh unable to play and fighting the Heat to return from health issues. It shows how ephemeral success can be in sports, why you cherish every great victory because there are no guarantees.
“Well, it was a jolt to our organization, no doubt about it,” Wade said about James leaving in the summer of 2014. “Our organization was built on us three, and obviously you take one out of it … but Chris Bosh, we didn’t get a chance to play for the next two years. Last year I thought we would see ‘Bron in the Eastern Conference finals. That was our goal. Chris was obviously out because of the blood clots, so things happened in Miami for us in a negative way when it comes to injuries and stuff, and things worked out great for him [in Cleveland]. It is what it is. Like I said, for me he’s a friend and we had four years together. I never thought we would have those four years together. I was thankful for those four years, as I know he was, and all of us will be able to live a long life very good because of those four years. Outside of that, he wanted to go back home. I support him, I’m proud of him, happy that he won a championship last year. I was there rooting him on, and now we move on.’’
Perhaps they’ll meet in the playoffs this season for the first time, James challenging the ghost of Michael Jordan and Wade knowing that is a losing battle. We can only hope to see it before it’s too late.