INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — It would be hard to imagine back when the Miami Heat were coming off consecutive championships a few seasons ago that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade would both leave the franchise as free agents in short order.
Yet sure enough, James went back to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014 and Wade went back to his hometown Chicago Bulls this past summer, shifting the balance of power in the Eastern Conference.
With the Bulls and Cavs set to play a preseason game Friday, James confirmed that he hoped Wade would have ended up in Cleveland with him.
“We couldn’t afford him,” James said. “It’s that simple.”
Wade signed a two-year deal with Chicago in the offseason worth about $47 million. The Cavs, well above the cap with a star-studded core of James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson all signed to long-term deals, could have offered Wade only the taxpayer midlevel exception, worth about $3.5 million.
Cleveland ended up using the MLE on retaining Richard Jefferson.
“Who wouldn’t be interested in a Hall of Famer?” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue echoed, referring to Wade’s likely spot in the Hall. “That don’t even make sense. Yeah, we wanted him.”
James, who has maintained his friendship with Wade since leaving Miami, unsurprisingly backed Wade’s decision to join the Bulls after playing the first 13 years of his career with the Heat.
“I support my guys — you guys know that,” James said. “That was a decision that he wanted to make and I support him.”
Just as James’ community outreach in Akron, Ohio, comprises such a big element in his life since returning to the Cavs, Wade has said that being in Chicago can help him effect positive change in his city.
“My purpose for being back in the city is bigger than basketball,” Wade said last month. “Basketball is a big part of it, of course. It’s what I do for a living. But I think my purpose at the end of the day is hopefully to come to Chicago and be a part and be the voice that can help bring people together.”
James, who shared the ESPYS stage with Wade this summer to encourage other athletes to raise their social awareness, said he has spoken to Wade about continuing that cause.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations,” James said. “I don’t really like to talk about what we talk about but he’s done some things in the community already since he’s been back to Chicago, and obviously he has a lot of ties there, being from there. So I think it’s been good for not only him but for the city, more importantly.”
While the Big Three era in Miami will someday be remembered for two titles, four trips to the Finals, a 27-game win streak and creating the free-agent frenzy for superstars that exists today, James said he isn’t shocked that it didn’t last longer.
“In professional sports things can change from one year to another like that, so I’ve always had that perspective ever since I came into the NBA,” James said. “I’ve always known it’s a business and you could be with one team this year — have teammates this year, the next year you might not have them. That’s part of the business. So I’ll always have that perspective.”