LOS ANGELES — As LeBron James readied himself at the free-throw line late Monday night, Dwyane Wade jokingly made a request he knew would not be fulfilled.
“I asked him to miss one,” Wade said after the last meeting between the close friends and former title-winning teammates. “So I could go down the other end and hit the game-winner.”
James, for all his much-noticed, late-game troubles at the stripe, knocked down both attempts and ultimately steered the Los Angeles Lakers to a 108-105 win at Staples Center.
Wade, on his retirement lap with the Miami Heat, doesn’t think James will miss with his next goal either: the task of bringing a championship to the Lakers.
“They should be very confident in all they have got on that team,” Wade said. “The way (LeBron) is able to make shots and take over a game, it gives you confidence that you have a threat.
“Then there’s (Kyle) Kuzma, Josh Hart is a hell of a player, the right kind of player. Lonzo Ball is the kind of player who doesn’t need to score to have a great game. Experience is a key for them and as the season comes on they will get there.”
The Lakers have yet to put together a perfect game and still have noticeable weaknesses, but they have pieced together a 17-10 record and deserve to be taken seriously in the Western Conference. If anything, their run of 15 wins in the past 20 games while still with much to improve upon is an ominous warning to the rest of the West.
More than anything, though, what will ultimately determine whether James’ move to L.A. is a success is the man himself, and whether he can use his impact and influence to raise another banner. Wade knows just what is possible when James sets his mind to a mission. He saw it in Miami, where he and James won titles in 2012 and 2013.
“He wants to be great,” Wade said. “I know you guys say he is already great. He understands he has unbelievable God-given ability and he wants to make sure he is also in awe. He doesn’t lack when it comes to his preparation, he doesn’t lack when it comes to his greatness and his imprint on the game.
“That’s why he is in the 16th year, and if you didn’t know basketball, you’d think he has just come in the league. He is a special, special player. I am going to be retired so long and he is still (going to be) playing and people are going to forget we were drafted in the same draft. That’s how long he’s going to be around for.”
James cherishes his closeness with Wade for factors that stretch far beyond basketball. He describes his old colleague — with the Heat, two United States Olympic teams and for half of last season with Cleveland — as part of his family.
While the pair first connected at the NBA pre-draft combine in 2003, their bond became unbreakable during James’ four years in Miami, which saw them advance to the Finals four seasons in a row.
“I spent my first 25 years in Akron,” James said. “For me to move down to a place that was foreign to me and my family, for him to open up that city and that franchise to me and make it so seamless – I owe so much to him”
Wade has a home in Los Angeles and James already expects to invite him to workouts once his career concludes at the end of this campaign. With the Lakers expected to make a serious play to add a superstar in the summer in anticipation for a championship push next season, Wade is looking forward to seeing what’s next, sometimes from the courtside seats.
When describing why he thinks James’ move to L.A. will have the desired end result, Wade began by setting out the additional things James has done since the very start of career, tedious attention-to-detail habits of looking after his body and prioritizing physical longevity that few teenagers have the mind for.
But really, there is just one reason why he thinks his friend’s latest career move will end in triumph.
“It’s LeBron James, man,” he said.
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