LeBron James’ arrival and departure from the Miami Heat were world-shifting NBA moves. There are many stories about how the meeting went down between him and Pat Riley. Some people say the decision was made before Riley could get in a word. Riley surprisingly challenged LeBron stating:
“This stuff is hard. And you go to stay together, if you’ve got the guts. And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.”
James took exception and decided it was time to go back home. The ending between the two was straight out of a movie. Everyone knew that this would not be the last time that the two icons crossed paths.
Before the world ever thought of the move that gave the Heat two of their three titles in franchise history, there was another one that involved another legendary Laker. In the 2004 NBA Finals, the Detroit Pistons embarrassed Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Bryant and O’Neal spearheaded their version of a “superteam” alongside Gary Payton and Karl Malone.
The following off-season was the end of one Lakers dynasty and the beginning of another. Shaq was everything for the Lakers since he arrived in 1996. His dominance was one of the reasons that the Lakers secured the NBA’s last threepeat from ’00-02. Throughout the success, the relationship between Shaq and Kobe was strained. They both were budding into superstars whose games were complementary, but off-court personalities did not mesh. Shaq wanted to turn it on when it mattered, while Kobe wanted to keep it on at all times.
While the partnership was also losing its shine, there was also a money issue. Shaq wanted a bigger deal, but the Lakers did not want to shell out the deal he felt he deserved. Head coach Phil Jackson was also on his way out.
Enter the Heat to pick up where talks were stalling. On July 14th, 2004, the Lakers sent Shaq to the Heat in exchange for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant, and a future first-rounder.
The Lakers went into rebuild mode while the Heat became a contender. Shaq joined Dwyane Wade in a new dynamic duo. Miami went on to enjoy the franchise’s first championship that same season. Things in Los Angeles seemed to be trending in the opposite direction as the Lakers missed and got bounced from the playoffs in three years post-Shaq. To compound matters, they nearly lost Bryant as he requested a trade in 2007.
Several years later, the Lakers saw Odom blossom into the league’s premier Sixth Man. The Lakers also traded for another all-star big man in Pau Gasol. The first-round pick from the Heat turned into Jordan Farmar. Before we knew it, the Lakers reinvented themselves into back-to-back champions.
LeBron and the Lakers looked to the Heat to turn over a new leaf. Both did it by way of transaction. Kobe and the Lakers grew stronger in the exit of Shaq and we saw the Heat do the same some years after LeBron. Post-LeBron, they chose to stay competitive and stick to their culture of fitness and hard-nosed basketball. James still has this in his DNA and it’s been with the Cavs in his return and now the Lakers. On Wednesday night, we will see the clash of a player that resurrected a culture with the soldiers born from a fire he once stoked. It’s history in the making again for everybody.