The 2003 NBA Draft features LeBron James (No. 1 pick by Cleveland Cavaliers), Dwyane Wade (No. 5 by Miami Heat) and Luke Walton (No. 32 by Los Angeles Lakers).
As James recently signed a four-year, $154 million deal with the Lakers, Wade announced the 2018-19 Heat season would be his last. Meanwhile, Walton is already in his third season as head coach but first with James as his player.
While Walton joked about his impact on one of the best draft classes of all time, he was able to put James and Wade’s final matchup in perspective. “It’s amazing to me that they’re still playing; both of them at such a high level,” he said after the Lakers held on for a victory against the Heat.
“When you play in the NBA, it goes really quickly. They made the most out of their careers. Winning championships — separate and together — becoming two of the best players of all-time. When they came in the league, everyone was so young. Just in a blink of an eye, we’re talking about them playing on the last court for the last time against each other. A special, special night.”
Although James and Wade did not guard each other for the entire game, they did on the final possession in what was a storybook ending. “That was pretty cool at the end that it was D-Wade and LeBron matched up as the time went off,” Walton said.
“Selfishly, I’m glad D-Wade missed that shot. It was a pretty cool way to end the game. For us, at least, that wasn’t who we had LeBron on. At that moment we were switching one through five, so that’s kind of the way it just worked out.”
As James had 28 points, 9 rebounds and 12 assists, Wade had 15 points, 5 rebounds and 10 assists. With the Lakers up 108-105, Wade had an opportunity to tie the game with James guarding him but missed the 3-pointer.
“It was a tough shot, but I had a bad feeling it was going to go in. We’ll take the miss,” Walton said.
Immediately after the game, the two friends embraced and exchanged jerseys. While there are still over 50 games remaining this season, it felt like the end of an era.
With Wade looking to finish his future Hall-of-Fame career on his terms, James is still looking to add to his.