As the summer wears on, with training camps and preseason play still off in (what feels like) the distant future, we turn our attention to the past. Join us as we while away a few late-summer moments recalling some of the most scintillating slams of yesteryear, the most thunderous throwdowns ever to sear themselves into our memories. This is Dunk History.
As members of the historic 2003 draft class, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James quickly developed a close friendship. They also spent significant time playing together for Team USA during the NBA offseason. They took home bronze medals from the 2004 Summer Olympics and 2006 FIBA World Championship before breaking through and winning gold during the 2008 Summer Games as part of the “Redeem Team.” Their on-court matchups were must-see television, as each upped their game for their head-to-head contests.
"I like playing against LeBron more than anybody else in the league," Wade said. "He brings out the best in me, and I bring out the best in him."
During 25 head-to-head matchups in their careers, James holds a 14-11 advantage and has averaged 29.0 points, 7.4 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game. Wade has more than held his own, averaging 27.1 points, 6.2 assists and 5.2 rebounds per meeting.
In November 2009, the 27-year-old Wade and 24-year-old James were both in the midst of their athletic peaks, capable of producing game-changing highlight-reel plays at any moment. James had just won the first of four Most Valuable Player awards in a five-year span, while Wade was the NBA's reigning scoring champion. The early-season matchup between James' Cleveland Cavaliers and Wade's Miami Heat was such a hot ticket that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were in attendance at AmericanAirlines Arena.
After seeing James dunk on his teammate Damon Jones in 2005, Wade got revenge a few years later. The sequence leading to Wade’s dunk begins at the other end of the court, as James drives to the rim and goes up for a dunk of his own, only to be blocked by Jermaine O’Neal. Wade then gathers the rebound and pushes the ball up the right sideline.
When no Cavalier defender stops the ball, Wade veers into the middle of the lane, where Anderson Varejao is the last line of defense for the Cavaliers. Wade explodes to the rim.
As he comes body to body with Varejao, Wade temporarily loses control of the ball, but is able to corral it before nearly ripping the rim off the hoop. Despite being six inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter, Wade knocks Varejao to the ground and draws the foul. With Varejao laying on the ground, Wade not-so-subtly steps over him, a la Pippen against Patrick Ewing in the 1994 playoffs. He then mean-mugs for the crowd before trash talking with O’Neal and Michael Beasley as the crowd roars.
TNT broadcasters Marv Albert and Reggie Miller each went into a frenzy following the slam.
“Wade — Oh, a facial! Yes! And the foul!” Albert exclaimed. “Dwyane Wade going right at Anderson Varejao!”
Miller nearly combusted while narrating the replay before concluding with, “Welcome to your Kodak moment, Anderson Varejao!”
After the game, James was not bashful in his praise of Wade’s dunk on his teammate.
"It was great, probably top 10 all-time," James said. "That was an unbelievable play by a great player."
That night, James also said that he planned to change his number from No. 23 as a sign of respect to Jordan, and that the league should permanently retire the number. Jordan’s jersey was already retired by two teams, a fact then-Plain Dealer reporter and LeBron aficionado Brian Windhorst quickly pointed out:
“The Miami Heat retired Michael Jordan's No. 23 in 2003. It's also retired in Chicago. Hmmm ...”
While Wade had the highlight dunk and a game-high 36 points, James’ 34 points were enough for the Cavaliers to get the victory.
Despite being the two best individual players in the Eastern Conference, neither Wade nor James could get past the Boston Celtics' Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. In a first-round playoff matchup with Boston, Wade did everything for the Heat, averaging 33.2 points, 6.8 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks in 42 minutes per game. Even with his superstar performance, though, the Heat only managed to win one game against the Celtics.
In the second round of the playoffs, James suffered a similar fate. He battled a questionable elbow injury to average 26.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.3 blocks in 42.5 minutes per game as the Cavaliers lost in six games to the Celtics. The lasting image from the series was James ripping off his jersey as he walked into the locker room after Game 6.
Whether it was time spent bonding in Beijing, the bullies in Boston or the example set by Jordan and Pippen, Wade and James ultimately decided they would be better off playing together (along with Chris Bosh) than competing against each other. Although they were widely criticized and struggled early on, Wade and James had a very successful four-year run together; once Wade settled into a Pippen role and allowed James to play Jordan, the Heat won back-to-back titles.
For a player of Wade’s caliber to take a back seat is pretty remarkable. He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, one of the best guards of all time and could finish his career as one of the best 25 players ever. While his 2006 Finals MVP and declining health likely made his decision slightly easier, Wade deserves a lot of credit for ceding the spotlight to James.
The signature game of the Big Three era in Miami was Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals on the road against the Indiana Pacers. Trailing 2-1 in the series and playing without Bosh, a loss likely would have led to significant roster changes during the offseason. Instead, James and Wade combined for 70 points, 27 rebounds, 15 assists, four blocks and three steals to even the series.
The Heat won the final two games against the Pacers, and went on to win back-to-back titles. Just like they did when playing against each other, Wade and James brought out the best in each other as teammates.
Paul Palladino is a mobile alerts/social editor for Yahoo Sports, and the author of "No Boys Allowed: The Definitive Case Against the NBA Age Limit."
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