LeBron James famously changed the NBA landscape when in the summer of 2010, after failing to win a title in his first stint with the Cavaliers, he left the cold of Southeast Ohio for the Heat in South Beach. There James joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, leading Miami to four straight Eastern Conference titles and two NBA championships.
If Carmelo Anthony picked up on previous hints dropped by friends James and Wade years earlier, then the scoring savant might have been the third member instead of Bosh and the setting might not have been Miami.
Bleacher Report's NBA writer Howard Beck wrote a fascinating feature story on the brotherhood between James and Anthony, two longtime pals who entered the league as the first and third picks respectively in the 2003 NBA Draft. Both have turned in Hall of Fame worth careers and earned millions of dollars with James the more accomplished on both fronts and not just because the serial Twitter unfollower turned into the world's best passive aggressive subtweeter.
For those new here, James won four NBA Most Valuable Player awards and those two rings. Meanwhile the volume scoring Anthony put up points for the Nuggets and Knicks, but hasn't been a major part of the playoff picture. Over the last three seasons with New York, he hasn't even been in the postseason.
Perhaps that changes and likely does if Anthony took note of what James said during a conference in the summer of 2006 when the "three budding NBA stars—rivals, friends and members of the same draft class—got on the phone to discuss their futures," Beck wrote.
Three years into their careers, each was eligible for an extension of up to five years.
"Listen," James told his buddies on the conference call, "I think I'm going to do a three-year extension, because in 2010 we can become free agents at the peak, right there in the prime of our career."
A longer deal meant more guaranteed money. A shorter deal held risks. But James wanted to keep his options open. Wade did, too. They opted for three-year, $60 million extensions that would expire in 2010, together.
"And, uh, Melo," James said, smiling and chuckling softly, "Melo took the five-year."
In fairness to Anthony, the Nuggets were competitive at that point. "I wanted to stay in Denver," Anthony said. "Like, I believed in Denver so much that I felt like we had an opportunity to do some things out there."
The Nuggets reached the 2009 Western Conference final, but Anthony eventually orchestrated a trade to New York during the 2010-11 season, a few months after his pals and hooked up in Miami. James got Wade and Bosh. Anthony got Amar'e Stoudamire.
We'll never know how July 2010 would have looked had Anthony taken the hint and taken the short deal. He might have become the third member of the Heatles or linked up with James in New York or Chicago.
Having denied himself that chance, Anthony instead forced a trade to New York the following year, to join forces with Stoudemire.
Looking back, Anthony can only smile ruefully at the missed opportunity, the missed cues. Once James and Bosh landed with Wade on South Beach, "it was like, 'OK, they knew something,'" Anthony said, chuckling.
"Yeah, they plotted that," he said, still chuckling. "They plotted that."
So, why didn't they tell you?
"I guess they was telling me, in their own way: 'Take the three-year deal.'"
The quote is relayed to James, who affirms, "We were."
Pondering "What if' scenarios is a good time in general. For NBA junkies, imagining what would have happened if Anthony and James joined as teammates during the prime of their careers is gold.
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