Miami Heat

With LeBron, Wade set to face off for final time, Wade knows ‘we’ll always be linked together forever’

Dwyane Wade remembers the final time he played against Kobe Bryant. It was on March 30, 2016 and it was special.

Wade finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Bryant finished with just two points on 1-of-7 shooting. The Lakers beat the Heat 102-100 at Staples Center.

But that’s all minutiae at this point. What Wade remembers is everything else that happened that day, like when he interrupted Bryant’s postgame press conference and spent time with him later that night.

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“My last time to play against Kobe, it meant something to me,” Wade said. “I went in the back of the locker room and we sat and talked. I interrupted his press conference. It meant something.”

Turn that emotion up a notch, and that’s what Monday’s game between the Heat (11-14) and Lakers (16-10) will feel like when close friends LeBron James and Wade face off in an NBA game for the final time before Wade retires at the end of the season. A Finals matchup between the Lakers and Heat is technically still possible, but very unlikely.

“Out of all the players in the league besides [Udonis Haslem], Bron is one of my closest friends,” Wade said. “It definitely will mean a little bit more, and just everything in our careers. The paths that we both went down as competitors versus each other and as teammates, we’ll always be linked together forever.

“So, it will definitely mean a lot. It’s the ending of a chapter in both of our lives. This is just the end of a chapter as competitors on the basketball court.”

But this chapter has included so much.

From the first time they ever played against each other on Nov. 12, 2003 in Miami to a Christmas Day matchup in 2007 to James’ first game back in Miami after leaving the Heat as a free agent in 2014, there have been so many twists and turns in this chapter.

How about that game on Dec. 17, 2005, when James scored 41 and Wade poured in 33? The Cavaliers ended up defeating the Heat 115-107.

Then there’s that March 12, 2006 game that Wade’s 35 points were enough to lift the Heat to a 98-92 win despite James’ 47-point performance. Less than a month later, James earned revenge by turning in another 47-point game to lead the Cavaliers to a 106-99 win over the Heat despite 44 points from Wade on April 1, 2006.

There was also that four season gap that James and Wade didn’t have to face each other. That came when they were Heat teammates from 2010-14, when they won two NBA championships together as part of Miami’s Big Three with Chris Bosh.

After all of that, it’s only right that James and Wade enter Monday’s game with an even 15-15 head-to-head record when facing each other over their careers.

“I’ll savor this. We both will,” Wade said of Monday’s matchup against James. “We both had some amazing moments versus each other as competitors. But we obviously had some great moments as teammates. And we’re going to be friends forever, but this is the last time we play basketball versus each other. So we’ll enjoy it and then we’ll savor it.

“Obviously, LeBron is one of my good friends and the history we have as teammates, as well. It definitely means more than just the average last game versus a team or individual.”

It’s a moment James will appreciate, as well.

“It’s bitter and it’s sweet. It’s sweet and it’s sour,” James said. “The sweet part is that I’ve always loved being on the floor with my brother. We struck up a relationship together at the combine in 2003, and it started from there. And the sour part about it is that this is our last time sharing the same court. Sometimes it’s just chemistry. Sometimes you can’t even explain it.”

The first time the Lakers and Heat faced off against each other this season, Wade didn’t play as he was in the middle of his paternity leave. The Lakers won that game 113-97 in Miami, with James scoring a season-high 51.

“I watched it. I definitely did,” Wade said when asked about that night. “Of course I wish I was there. He played very well. He played very well. I was watching the last shot when he shot that three, and you just knew it was going on. When he got the ball, whatever he was going to shoot was going to go in.

“I’m sure for him it felt good for it to be his 16th year and to put a performance like that together back in the city he played at. But it was against my team, so I didn’t text him, I didn’t cheer for him, I didn’t tweet nothing, I didn’t like it.”

Despite their friendship, that’s the type of competitiveness that’s part of their relationship. So before Wade and James reflect on what was and exchange jerseys following Monday’s game, there will be some trash talking between the two on the court.

After all, this one is to break the 15-15 head-to-head tie.

“We always have a little chatter because I enjoy playing those games. I’m woke when I play,” Wade said. “I love the little chatter back and forth, but not trash talking. Just basic chatter, especially since it will be our last time.

“So we’ll definitely have a moment where we look at each other like this is it. It’s crazy that it happened so fast. We remember the night we got drafted, it’s like yesterday for both of us. It comes fast.”

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