INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — When LeBron James left the Miami Heat to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dwyane Wade thought his days playing alongside the four-time MVP were over for good. Now that the championship teammates are reunited in Cleveland, Wade can’t help but relish the turn of events.
“We’re just … it’s like peanut butter and jelly, man,” Wade said of James on Friday at his introductory news conference. “We just go together.”
Wade and James were both drafted into the NBA in 2003, won an Olympic gold medal together in 2008 and went to four straight NBA Finals together from 2011 to 2014, earning two rings. In the three years since, James has added three Finals runs and a championship to his résumé while all Wade can claim is missing the playoffs in 2015, a second-round exit in 2016 with Miami and a first-round exit in 2017 with the Chicago Bulls.
After accepting a buyout from the Bulls — leaving $8 million on the table to do so — Wade was courted by both Carmelo Anthony and Paul George to join the Oklahoma City Thunder and had opportunities to go to Miami or the San Antonio Spurs. Ultimately, he chose James and the Cavs.
“Once I got the opportunity to get the buyout, I looked around and I was flattered by the teams that reached out, but at the end of the day, this is where I wanted to be, this is where I felt I should be from a basketball perspective to come in and be a part of this,” Wade said. “This team right here from top to bottom is one of the most talented teams I’ve been on. Just happy to come and to be able to add whatever I can to this group.”
While George “really came with it” and was so flattering in his pursuit that Wade said it made “an old guy feel good,” James was subtle, yet vigilant, in expressing interest in his friend.
“It was slight. It wasn’t heavy recruiting,” Wade said. “I think the first time he reached out to me was a couple days after Jimmy [Butler] got traded, and he just texted me and just said, ‘Hey man, just checking on you,’ so I knew what that meant.
“We obviously talk very often. Then the next time he reached out to me again a little bit later, just to let me know, ‘Hey man, if something happens in Chicago where you’re not a part of the organization no more, I would love for you to be here.”
“It was slight. It wasn’t heavy recruiting. I think the first time he reached out to me was a couple days after Jimmy [Butler] got traded, and he just texted me and just said, ‘Hey man, just checking on you,’ so I knew what that meant.”
Dwyane Wade, on LeBron James’ pitch to join the Cavs
“He knew I could help this team in some way. I appreciated that,” Wade said. “It wasn’t the sole reason, but definitely everyone knows our relationship, and that he’s a huge reason why I decided to come here. But this team is so good, and you just want to be a part of something special like this.”
The Cavs have so much depth at shooting guard between Wade, JR Smith and Kyle Korver that Cleveland’s newest 12-time All-Star isn’t guaranteed to start. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue has played Wade at backup point guard in his first couple of practices with the team.
“Me and Ty just talked about, we talked about role,” Wade said. “We didn’t talk about starting or nothing like that. We just talked about what my role can be and pretty much what I’ve always done. Understanding that right now we have to get through training camp, we have to see how guys play together, we got to get through preseason. I’m not focusing on starting at the 2. I’m not focusing on anything.”
When the regular season rolls around, Wade’s presence figures to alleviate the workload of everyone around him.
“We’re very deep, so guys don’t have to pull out their do-it-yourself kits all the time,” he said. “You can play less minutes if our first team and our second team play the way they need to play. LeBron don’t need to play too many minutes as he has played in the past if we do our job and vice versa. So when you have a deep team like this, it enables you to save guys minutes in the regular season.”
The Cavs tried to sign Wade in the summer of 2016 but could only offer $3.5 million. He signed a two-year, $47 million deal with Chicago instead. Wade will make $2.3 million for Cleveland this season, the veteran’s minimum.
Wade said Friday that he feels like, “I’ve probably given back the most money in the NBA,” referring to the less-than-max deal he took in 2010 to have James and Chris Bosh come to Miami and the $11 million bath he took in the summer of 2014 when he opted out of the final two years of his contract with the Heat only to re-sign for two years at a discounted rate not long after James chose to go back to the Cavs.
Combine those with the $8 million he sacrificed in his buyout from Chicago and Wade estimates he has left $30 million on the table during his 15-year NBA career.
“I kept playing basketball until I decided to walk away from it, but [it’s] costing me money,” said Wade, 35. “I got way more money than I ever thought I’d have, so I’m OK.”
And he’s happy to be reunited with James.
“Every time we walk by each other in the locker room and everywhere, we just look at each other and shake our head because it just don’t seem real,” Wade said. “It’s like, ‘How did this happen? How did we get here?’ We just start laughing every time we walk by each other.”