On Tuesday, the Miami Heat will take on the Los Angeles Lakers in what will be the final meeting between draft class partners, Eastern Conference rivals, long-time teammates and best friends, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
This is the first and final matchup between the two this season, since Wade missed the first meeting due to the birth of his daughter. It's hard to forget the times these two had together on the court as teammates - running the league from 2010 to 2014 after LeBron chose to 'take his talents to South Beach' - but it's often forgotten how competitive some of their matchups against each other have been.
From the day they were drafted to the final time they'll share the court, it's been a special run for two of the greatest players of this generation.
2003 NBA Draft
In an interview with ESPN's Rachel Nichols, Wade and LeBron talked about on their first interaction in which Wade was in the draft combine training room for 'a long time, like over an hour,' waiting to be taken care of after a workout when James walked into the room. The second James sat on the training bed next to him, the trainers rushed over to tend the future No. 1 pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, cutting Wade in line. Wade stated that it was the first conversation they had, but 'it was instant connection.'
James had a similar feeling as well, "from Day 1, when we saw each other at predraft camp in 2003, man we just clicked. I can't even explain it," he told Cleveland.com in an interview in 2014.
And so it began.
James was already deemed 'The Chosen One' and the consensus number one pick of the draft. The critiques on his game were slim-to-none, with most negatives surrounding his name being intangible things such as, "all the hype at such a young age is inconceivable. Can he stay focused and continue to work hard to improve his game? No one has ever had to overcome this kind of hype as a highschool player," said by Aran Smith, the owner of NBAdraft.net.
As for Wade, he had just put together an impressive NCAA Tournament run to get his Marquette Golden Eagles to the Final Four. Most of his critiques came from his size as an undersized shooting guard and that he was going to have to 'add a jumpshot to his arsenal,' an anonymous Eastern Conference scout told USA Today.
They were selected at No. 1 by the Cleveland Cavaliers and No. 5 by the Miami Heat, respectively, starting their Eastern Conference rivalry.
The first matchup and other 'first' matchups
The first time these two future Hall of Famers faced off was November 12, 2003 in Miami.
Both teams were off to a bad start to the year with Cleveland at 2-6 and the Heat at 1-7, though their two young superstars had performed well to this point.
It was the first of 30 duels against eachother, with the first one going to D-Wade. LeBron had posted 18 points, seven assists and three rebounds, but Miami defeated the Cavaliers 88-83 behind 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists from Wade.
This was one of what will be five 'first' matchups against each other, when you consider the first time they faced off after James left the Heat, when Wade went to the Chicago Bulls and when he returned to Miami - all in which Wade has won.
The biggest of all of them was Christmas Day in 2014 when LeBron returned to Miami to face Wade for the first time since leaving the Heat. The night came with a video tribute and all for James, but the Heat pulled away with the 101-91 win on a huge performace from their captain.
This was a classic battle between the two. Wade finished with 31 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block while James posted 30 points, eight rebounds and four assists. After the game, there was nothing but love between two best friends. LeBron told reporters in a post-game scrum, "Our relationship is way, way beyond basketball," while Wade backed James' decision to leave Miami, "He made the right decision, he went home. You can't say anything about that decision if someone decides to go home."
Wade defeated LeBron again in their first meeting since becoming a Chicago Bull in December of 2016, posting 24 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals. James had 27 points, 13 rebounds and five assists but the Cavaliers fell short 111-105.
Then, after being traded from LeBron's Cavaliers back home to Miami last season, the Heat beat Cleveland 98-79 behind 12 points, four assists, four blocks and two rebounds. LeBron had 18 points, seven assists and six rebounds in the loss.
Wade will try and keep this streak going on Monday when he plays James for the first time as a member of the Lakers.
Their top three battles
Wade and LeBron had plenty of great battles, but there are three in particular that stick out other than Christmas Day 2014.
March 12, 2006 - Wade gets the best of James
Miami Heat 98, Cleveland Cavaliers 92
Wade: 35 points (11-26 FG 13-18 FT), nine rebounds, seven assists, two steals, one block
James: 47 points (11-27 FG, 24-28 FT), seven rebounds, four assists
Of their three biggest games against eachother, this is the only time Wade earned the win. He and Shaquille O'Neal out-played James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to take this one, leading to a highly anticipated matchup a few weeks later which did not disappoint.
April 1, 2006 - James and Wade couldn't be stopped
Cleveland Cavaliers 106, Miami Heat 99
James: 47 points (16-25 FG, 2-6 3PT, 13-14 FT), 12 rebounds, nine assists, two steals
Wade: 44 points (18-36 FG, 7-9 FT), nine assists, eight rebounds, two steals, one block
This is the highest combined point-total in any matchup between LeBron and D-Wade. This was a back-and-forth contest for the ages between two of the game's top players in the league at the time. LeBron and the Cavaliers took advantage of the Shaq-less Heat and edged out a win despite Wade's huge night. He and the Heat got the last laugh at the end of the season anyway, going on to win the 2006 NBA Finals.
March 2, 2009 - James' MVP and Wade's scoring title season
Cleveland Cavaliers 107, Miami Heat 100
James: 42 points (13-21 FG, 6-7 3PT, 10-10 FT), eight rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block
Wade: 41 points (16-30 FG, 2-6 3PT, 7-9 FT), nine rebounds, seven assists, seven steals
This season was special for both of these players - LeBron went on to win his first MVP and Wade earned his first and only scoring title averaging 30.2 points per game. In this shootout, James and the Cavaliers got a huge boost from Mo Williams who finished with 30 points to beat Wade and the Heat. Miami eventually lost in the first round of the playoffs while the Cavaliers fell just short to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Ironically enough, this game will be a winner-take-all in their head-to-head series. James and Wade are exactly 15-15 against eachother all-time, both posting incredible numbers when they face off.
James averages 28.5 points, 7.3 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game against Wade, shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from long range. Wade averages 25.8 points, 5.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game against LeBron, shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from beyond the arc.
It's no surprise that these two competitors and best friends raise their game to another level when they take the floor against eachother. Their final matchup should be a special moment not just for the league but also for their friendship and their careers.
MORE: 10 moments we'll never forget from LeBron and Wade's time in Miami
"I'll savor this," Wade told Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel, "We both will. We both had some amazing moments versus each other, as competitors. But we obviously had some great moments as teammates.
"We're going to be friends forever, but this is the last time we'll play basketball versus each other. So we'll enjoy it and then we'll savor it."