MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Monday will be the final two-step for two of the most successful teammates in NBA history, as Dwyane Wade's self-titled "Last Dance" season before retirement rolls through Los Angeles for a game against LeBron James and the Lakers.
"It's bitter, and it's sweet," James said following the Lakers' 111-88 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday, as L.A. prepares for Monday's showdown with Wade and the Miami Heat. "It's sweet and sour. The sweet part about it is I've always loved being on the same floor with my brother. We struck up a relationship together at the combine in 2003, and it started from there. And the sour part about it is that this is our last time sharing the same court."
James was the No. 1 pick straight out of high school in the heralded 2003 NBA draft class, going to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. Wade was selected No. 5 by Miami following an electric run to the Final Four with Marquette.
The two were Eastern Conference rivals for years before pairing up in the summer of 2010 and leading the Heat to four straight NBA Finals appearances and two championships in four seasons together. They later paired up in Cleveland for the first half of last season before Wade was traded back to Miami amid a turbulent season for the Cavs.
James' Lakers enter Monday's game having won 12 of their past 16 games to push their record to 16-10. Miami has won three of its past four but is just 10-14 overall.
James, who turns 34 this month, entered Saturday averaging 28.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists, still very much the player he was when he won four MVPs. Wade, who turns 37 next month, is averaging 14.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
What made their bond so enduring?
"I don't know," James said. "Sometimes it's just chemistry. Sometimes you can't even explain it. And I bonded with Carmelo [Anthony] when I was in the 10th grade. I bonded with CP3 [Chris Paul] when I was in the 12th, and I bonded with D-Wade when we were both coming into the combine. Some things you just can't explain, and that's why we have our brotherhood."
Anthony was the No. 3 pick in the 2003 draft and is currently away from the Rockets as his representation and the team seek a trade. Paul, who was drafted in 2005, is navigating Houston through early season struggles.
"Honestly, the older I get and the more I'm in the game, I gain even that much more respect for these guys -- the legends that we're starting to lose along the way," Chandler said. "Guys that mean so much to our generation. I had some crazy competitive games against Dwyane Wade over the years. He's a legend in our game. It's always tough when you know they're losing, but you just embrace the moment. You cherish every moment you get to compete against those type of competitors.
"So I'm happy for him. I'm happy for where he's at in his life. He just welcomed a new baby. You give everything you've got to the game, and then you go on to live your life, so I'm happy for where he is right now."
Wade's impending exit and Anthony's uncertain future serve to underscore the marvel that is James' career. He keeps dominating the game while others who came into the league alongside him retire.
"I got to keep it going," James said. "I got to keep it going for the class of '03, that's for sure. So I love where I'm at right now, and D-Wade has definitely had a helluva career, obviously. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, a three-time champion and so on and so on. I mean, it speaks for itself. But what he's done for that franchise and what he's done for that community since he's been drafted has been a pretty good story."
After Wade scored 25 points in the Heat's 121-98 win over the LA Clippers on Saturday -- the 1,000th game of Wade's career -- he said Monday's game will have a "different" feeling.
"You're always excited to play the Lakers, and obviously, LeBron is there and [it's] our last time matching up, so it's definitely gonna be a little bit extra special than any normal game," Wade said. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you, 'Oh, it's another one of 82.' No, it's not. Not for me. It's a game where I get to play against not only one of my best friends but one of the game's greatest players for the last time. I want to win as a team, but I want to savor the opportunities."