The relationship between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James is one that the NBA has never seen before. Sure, Magic Johnson was friends with Larry Bird, as was Michael Jordan with Charles Barkley but in this social media driven age, have you seen anything like the public affection that Wade and James have shared since 2003?
Which leads me to this question. "Can you forgive Dwyane Wade if he leaves Miami for Cleveland?"
From 2003 to 2010, Heat and Cavs fans witnessed two up and coming elite stars competing with affection for each other. Wade won his first championship in 2006, and one of the best games from that season came when Wade scored 44 to LeBron's 47. When James was going to the Finals in 2007, he texted Wade seeking advice along the way.
From 2010 to 2014, Heat fans witnessed how close their friendship was. We saw stellar plays on the court while there was a brotherhood off the court. "They're like Siamese twins, whenever you see one, you know the other is nearby" said point guard Mike Bibby when he was their teammate in 2011.
You would think after James left to go back home in 2014, their friendship would take a hit as a result. Instead we've seen Wade interviewing James for the All-Star Game and then after Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Instead of animosity, these two are hugging it out before tip off and hanging out between timeouts. In 2010, Wade and Chris Bosh told James they didn't want to play in Cleveland.
Now for Wade, that may no longer be the case.
"Bigger than basketball" has been the common theme for these over their 12 year relationship. Which makes it obvious to me that loyalty isn't as strong as as you would think. James left home to be in Wade's house. James is back home and I'm sure he's talked to D-Wade about coming to his home now.
When James left Miami, only the people of Miami felt some sort of betrayal. The national narrative labeled him a hero for going from South Beach to northeast Ohio. The same could be said for D-Wade, because the story will be spun in a way where friendship trumps all. The cool story will be how strong of a bond these two have, not the view of how Miami feels losing star players in back-to-back seasons.
D-Wade is no longer an elite player in this league. While he was one of the best shooting guards in the East, he didn't even make the All-NBA third team. There is star power in getting paid while joining the Los Angeles Clippers or New York Knicks, but the brightest star is in Cleveland and that's because that star can shine in June for the next five seasons. That type of shine can only benefit the value for Wade himself. In Miami, Wade would be the loyal player but not on a national scale. He would just be mentioned whenever James (or another superstar) is in town. If he teams up with James, Wade is mentioned just about every night for the next three years.
Players praise Riley. Coaches admire him. He is every mobster boss nickname you can think of. For once though, he may also be the reason why D-Wade is no longer in Miami. Two years ago in his exit interview, Riley challenged LeBron to have guts and stay the course. Clearly James didn't take those words kindly.
This past season, Riley ended his exit interview challenging D-Wade to change the narrative created about him. Which pretty much meant "You need to stop missing games." I'm assuming Wade didn't take kindly to that either. LeBron, two time champion being challenged. D-Wade, 12 year face of the franchise being challenged. In a league where players run everything, Riley went old school. Is Riley outdated in today's cautious approach? Maybe. As a result, he may have his star player leaving him with an empty sky.
Financially, I don't know how the Cavs can pay Wade without jettisoning some of their restricted free agents. I also don't care how Wade fits into their offense. What I do know is that every day that passes by with Wade and the Heat not hashing out a deal leading up to the start of free agency is another day where the possibility of Wade to leaving to join LeBron becomes stronger.
So Miami, will you forgive him if he plays with his best friend?