MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – All LeBron James has done so far this year is win the NBA's MVP award for the third time, an NBA Finals MVP trophy to go along with that one, his elusive first championship and a second Olympic gold medal.
Dwyane Wade thinks his Miami Heat teammate is just getting started.
With the start of Heat training camp now just six weeks away, Wade said on Friday that he expects James to be even better this coming season now that the will-he-ever-win-a-championship question has been forever put to rest.
"That monkey is off his back and now he's just playing basketball," Wade said while taking a break from his annual fantasy camp, where fans pay up to $12,500 to get a four-day luxury taste of NBA life. "I think we'll see a better LeBron James — scary to say, three-time MVP — than we've seen. And it's because all he has to do is play basketball now. He doesn't have to worry about what he hasn't done. It'll always be something, but he's got the biggest one off his back."
Wade was a James fan instead of a James teammate this summer, when the U.S. men's basketball team won its second straight Olympic gold. Wade could not play while recovering from knee surgery but was in London for part of the Olympic tournament, and he said James made playing at a high level — such as a triple-double against Australia in the quarterfinal round — seem "effortless."
It's been that way for a while, too.
Going back to Miami's win-or-go-home Game 6 in Boston of the Eastern Conference finals, James has played in 20 games with the Heat and for USA Basketball. In those, his teams are 19-1, with the lone loss being Game 1 of the NBA Finals against Oklahoma City.
Four straight wins to close that title series, then five straight exhibition victories with the U.S. team, then an 8-0 Olympic record — 17 straight wins in all.
"He's on an amazing run," Wade said. "When you're on these kind of runs, you enjoy it. You keep going because you don't know when it's going to stop. I think he's just enjoying it right now. He's doing all this stuff without thinking about it. He's breaking records. He's in the history books. He's not thinking about it; he's just doing it. He's at a gear that I've seen myself at before when it just feels easy. He's just a gear above everyone."
Soon, Wade hopes to be back at his usual gear.
He's starting to hit the peak of his offseason schedule. Wade hosts his annual "Wade's World" weekend for kids in Chicago next week, then begins his book tour in New York on Sept. 4. Wade spent much of the past year writing a book about his experience as a father and the custody fight for his two sons.
And as he said in London, Wade reiterated on Friday his recovery from knee surgery is going according to plan, and that he intends to be back on the court to begin workouts in a couple of weeks.
That means he won't be scrimmaging the fantasy campers this weekend — though instead of dunking on them, as he did last summer, he will take them on in a 3-point contest instead. It's far from the strongest part of his game, but he's not too worried.
"I'll have some fun, be able to interact with them, make sure they're able (to) say that they lost to me again," Wade said. "I won't show up and leave. I'm here. They'll see me here all day; they know I'm a part of it. They know I'll run out on the court when they do something great and know I'll say something when they don't."
Campers get to stay in an upscale hotel, receive plenty of new basketball gear, and even get coached by, among others, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Indiana's Tom Crean — who coached Wade at Marquette. Miami coach Jim Larranaga and South Carolina's Frank Martin, a Miami native, are also on the coaching lineup.
"I wish I could play," Wade said.
Instead, he'll be a fan this weekend, just like he was for James in London.
"I'm one of LeBron's biggest fans," Wade said. "I couldn't be teammates with him if I wasn't a fan of his game. I'm one of his biggest supporters, one of his best friends. It's good to see him succeed like this, especially because I know the stuff he's dealt with. It's in the rear-view mirror now and he's going to move forward."
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