“Not one… Not two…Not three…” When LeBron James made “The Decision” — and the massive accompanying donation to charity — he changed basketball forever. Super-teams were suddenly OK. Joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami led the city to a pair of NBA championships. And they could’ve easily picked up another one or two.
However, James found the only way to raise his reputation even further: heading back to the Cleveland Cavaliers and finally, finally, winning one for The Land. But James’s time in Miami was special, and not just because of the results on the court.
How the 2003 draft class reunited
The 2003 NBA draft class was loaded. In addition to James, who went No. 1 overall, the first round dealt No. 2 pick Darko Miličić, the youngest player to win an NBA Championship; No. 3 Carmelo Anthony (who probably deserved Rookie of the Year honors), No. 4 Chris Bosh, and No. 5 Dwyane Wade.
Because of the way the NBA draft is structured, the talent at the top should be split up. They should all go to the teams that need it the most. But after six seasons, James found himself in Miami alongside Wade and Bosh — and they were ready to get it done.
Ups and downs in Miami
Let’s start by recapping the Big Three’s accomplishments. Since James made the NBA finals every year from 2011 to 2018, he must’ve carried the Heat those first years. Two times, they lifted the NBA Championship trophy. In addition to their two finals wins, the Heat also put together a 27-win streak — second-longest ever behind only the 1971-72 Lakers.
Everything wasn’t perfect for the Big Three, however. They made the finals four times, but they only won twice. In 2011, with James’s first potential championship hanging in the balance, the Heat squandered a 2-1 lead to the Dallas Mavericks.
Mark Cuban’s Mavs took the title when no one thought they could, delaying the coronation of King James for another year. It’s the only title that Dirk Nowitzki ever won and it came at the expense of the Big Three. It’s difficult to call any of this a true “failure” for Miami, but things certainly could have been even better with a little more luck.
But their biggest accomplishment wasn’t the win-streak or the two championships or James’s two MVP awards with the team. The Big Three Heat moved the NBA from the 2000s into the 2010s. It told superstar players that it was alright to go play with other superstars.
James going to Miami enabled Kevin Durant to go to Golden State. A couple years later, it let DeMarcus Cousins join Durant and the Warriors. The terrifying superteams that make up the NBA today are possible because LeBron James got tired of making it to the finals with Larry Hughes, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Drew Gooden backing him up.
The lasting Big Three legacy
James changed the NBA in plenty of ways, but going to Miami to build a superteam and win a pair of championships is definitely the most prominent. When he went back to Cleveland, his new Cavaliers dueled the Golden State Warriors in the finals every year from 2015 to 2018.
If James hadn’t gone to Miami to play alongside Wade and Bosh, the Warriors may not have acquired Durant and met the Cavs in the latter years. Part of the reason the ascent of Giannis and the Bucks is so exciting is that they didn’t form as a superteam — but give them a season or two and they’ll be fielding offers from MVPs.