LeBron James stood on the American Airlines Arena stage and clutched the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP trophy. To his left, Dwayne held the the Larry O’Brien Championship trophy and rubbed it in amazement.
Friends, teammates and superstars, LeBron and Wade ended the 2013 season side by side as NBA champions, just as they’d always imagined.
LeBron wrapped his left arm around Wade’s shoulders and leaned in to share a few words with his partner in crime. They tucked their heads so close together, their eyes disappearing from view beneath their hats, it was tough to tell where one ended and the other began.
It was as if they were one.
The Heat have always marketed themselves as a three-superstar team, but only LeBron’s and Wade’s rising tide has elevated Chris Bosh to their status. Bosh has never been capable of leading a team to a championship the way LeBron did last season or Wade did in 2006. As important as Bosh is, this grand experiment in Miami was always more about LeBron and Wade.
And in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, it was LeBron and Wade out front, leading the Heat to a 95-88 victory and their second straight championship. LeBron (37 points and 12 rebounds) and Wade (23 points and 10 rebounds) posted double-doubles in the same game for the first time since March and for the first time in the playoffs since their very first series together, a first-round matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers way back in 2011.
It was a fitting shared honor for two players whose play together had received intense scrutiny lately. Perhaps, you’ve seen some of these numbers:
LeBron in Games 1-6:
- With Wade: 17.3 points per 36 minutes on 38.9 percent shooting, 100.8 offensive rating
- Without Wade: 27.3 points per 36 minutes on 54.1 percent shooting, 131.7 offensive rating
Wade in Games 1-6:
- With LeBron: 17.4 points per 36 minutes on 43.8 percent shooting, 100.8 offensive rating
- Without LeBron: 32.7 points per 36 minutes on 62.5 percent shooting, 115.2 offensive rating
Many called for Erik Spoelstra to organize his rotation so LeBron and Wade each spent as much time as possible on the court without the other. Instead, Spoelstra went the other direction, playing LeBron and Wade together for 36 minutes in Game 7, more than they’d averaged together in the series’ first six games.
They didn’t necessarily get it done in tandem – Miami’s offensive rating in Game 7 with LeBron and not Wade on the court was 134.6 and with both on the court was 93.1, an even more extreme difference than in Games 1-6 – but they got it done together.
LeBron and Wade both scored at least the 23 points Wade had tonight in just three games after March 6. All three were in the Finals.
“They played Hall of Fame basketball tonight,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said in his postgame press conference. “That’s some of the best basketball they both played at the same time throughout the entire playoffs.”
The truth is LeBron and Wade still haven’t completely figured out how to play together.
But they’ll be back next year to go through the process of learning how to complement each other – just as they’ve wanted to navigate this journey with the Heat, just as they’ve conducted nearly every interview in the last three years, just as they sat tonight while posing for celebratory post-game photos:
Side by side.
Friends, teammates and superstars, LeBron and Wade have helped each other top the NBA world once again.