When the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers met on March 19, good friends Dwyane Wade and LeBron James shared embraces and interacted on the court, which caused widespread controversy, especially for James.
Wade isn’t too happy about it.
He told Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel the criticism and analysis didn’t make much sense:
That’s just disrespectful to the player, to say I’m going to give up this and that because we’re friends,” Wade said. “I use the analogy, it’s just like growing up with my brothers. I love ’em to death, but I want to beat them every time. That’s the same thing. I love ‘Bron. My respect for Kobe, my friendship with all these guys, I love ’em all. But I want to beat them every time, and vice versa.
Wade’s angle makes plenty of sense. The NBA is a family. Player after player lines up to interact with Kobe Bryant this year. Former teammates, from high school to college and beyond all share these special moments but can compartmentalize it and still compete at a high level.
The other angle makes sense too, though.
This is LeBron James, the biggest sporting brand in the world. He’s the guy whose every action goes under a microscope. Cleveland, despite first place in the Eastern Conference, canned a head coach. LeBron isn’t meshing right with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and the team hasn’t improved since the coaching change.
And the interaction itself. It wasn’t so much that LeBron played friendly all smiles with Wade, it was that he played friendly all smiles with Wade while his team got whipped 122-101. That he played friendly all smiles with Wade right around the time he made cryptic tweets some took as shots at his own team, not to mention right around the time he said he would take a pay cut to play with guys like Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony.
Right around the time multiple higher ups in the organization had to pull LeBron aside and talk to him about his odd behavior. Winderman added some detail to this last point:
According to Cleveland.com, Lue said he received an apology from the former Heat forward. “I just told him we can’t have that, being down like we were and him being the leader,” Lue said. “Just me being a competitor, I didn’t like it. We had a long talk about it. It was good. He understood, he apologized, and he’s been great.”
Wade is correct about a general rule. But rules have exceptions.
In this case, LeBron is the exception. His team is very much in danger of losing the top spot to the Toronto Raptors and there is a growing fear he might decide to up and leave Cleveland.
In other words, the microscope zooms in harder than ever on LeBron, whose actions and behavior will influence everything about the conversation. James isn’t a rookie and understands all of this, which makes his recent behavior strange—including the interactions with Wade, friendship or not.
Even Wade has to know everything is different with the King.