Two things came to mind with the news that Dwyane Wade has asked to come off the bench at Cleveland, thinking that may be a benefit to him and to the team.
First, would it have been possible for the most popular player in Miami Heat history to return to the franchise if he had come to that sort of career conclusion a little sooner? Yeah, probably, and that would have been fun for everybody.
Second, has LeBron James, the monstrous talent who drew Dwyane back to his side with the Cavs, ever forfeited his spot in the starting lineup to someone else?
I was surprised that the answer is yes, but just barely.
Going into Tuesday night’s game with Chicago, LeBron had suited up for 1,281 NBA games and started in 1,280 of them. That includes 217-for-217 in the postseason, from the age of 19.
The one exception, when LeBron stayed on the bench for the first 5:59 of a game in December, 2007, was sold as a favor for a Cleveland teammate.
Anderson Varejao was feuding with the Cavs over a new contract and sat out that season’s first 21 games as a restricted free agent. Eventually he signed an offer sheet with the Charlotte Bobcats, which the Cavs matched in order to keep him, but the idea that Varejao didn’t want to be in Cleveland raised the possibility of a negative reaction when he returned to the court at Quicken Loans Arena on Dec. 11.
That also happened to be LeBron’s first night back after missed five games with a sprained left index finger. Nobody knew quite what to make of him staying on the bench in his warmups as the game tipped off, but later, after a 118-105 victory over Indiana, LeBron explained.
“I thought it would raise the intensity of the fans, having me, Larry (Hughes) and Andy (Varejao) come in at the same time — and it worked,” James said. “I thought by coming in with Andy it might stop some of the boos Andy might get. Just protecting my teammates.”
LeBron told reporters that was the first time he had not started a game, going back to high school and earlier.
“That was one and done for me,” James said. “I will not be coming off the bench anymore.”
And he hasn’t, and he won’t. Unlike Wade, LeBron’s ego would not be able to process the concept, much less to propose it to a head coach.
He will always see himself as the best player in the building, or else he won’t enter the building at all.