9:39 PM ET
NEW YORK — Dwyane Wade’s final NBA game also marked something else: a reunion of the Banana Boat Crew, so nicknamed for a photograph that surfaced of the group on vacation in 2015.
Moments before Wednesday night’s game at Barclays Center between Wade’s Miami Heat and the Brooklyn Nets tipped off, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony exited the arena’s underground elevator inside a private SUV and walked into the bowl of the arena just as the night’s rendition of the national anthem was being completed.
James’ Lakers played the Blazers in Los Angeles the previous night, Paul was in Oklahoma City on Tuesday with the Rockets, and Anthony lives in New York. All three were able to get to their seats in the corner of the court across from Miami’s bench in time for a tribute video honoring Wade before pregame introductions to be played.
Wade, who was introduced first to a standing ovation by the crowd, then went over and hugged each of his friends before taking the court in the starting lineup.
“Listen, we all started this journey together,” James told Fox Sports Southeast during an interview early in the second quarter, when asked why the three of them came to the game. “Obviously CP came into the league a couple years after us, but we have a brotherhood that is just so much more than basketball. CP played last night, we had our last regular-season game last night, and Melo is right here in New York so we kind of made the plan and made the decision to come up here.”
Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and LeBron James sat courtside Wednesday night at Barclays Center to cheer on their friend and fellow “Banana Boat” crew member Dwyane Wade in his final NBA game. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
After scoring 30 points in the final home game of his career Tuesday night in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did his best to downplay expectations for an encore performance from Wade before Wednesday night’s game.
“Yeah, in a normal circumstance this would 1,000 percent be considered load management and protection,” Spoelstra said. “There’s no guarantees that this will be like last night. He let it all out there, including the postgame celebration. It was an incredible night. It was beautiful, and just everything probably played out as well as you possibly could imagine it, dream of it, in a scenario like that.
“That just doesn’t happen for most pro athletes. I’m very grateful like everyone else in Miami and the organization to have been part of a night like that.”
James, who narrated the part of the tribute video honoring Wade about the four years they spent together in South Florida that played before Tuesday’s game against the Sixers, was asked Wednesday what were his favorite memories of playing with Wade.
“I mean, we’d be here all night talking,” he said with a smile. “We’d be here all night talking about the best memories, or the most fond memories I have of D-Wade.
“The plane rides, the bus rides, the hotels. When we get to the city we’d go to the hotel room and just chop it up, the dinners we had on the road, everything we did was always genuine. [There was] always love, and we always wanted the best for one another, no matter the good or the bad.
“I will say the most founding part was when we lost [to Dallas in 2011]. Because, without ’11, there’s no , no [2012 championship] banners hanging up in [AmericanAirlines Arena]. That’s what made us. That’s what made our team.
“It’s been an unbelievable journey for my guy, and I’m happy to be here for the last little part of the road before the train comes to a stop.”
Wade fell trying to do his famous leap onto the scorer’s table during his postgame celebration Tuesday night, and tweeted Wednesday afternoon about getting treatment on his knee ahead of the final game of his NBA career.
And while he did get into the lane for a layup early in Wednesday’s game, Wade did look a step slower than he did in Tuesday’s vintage performance — something to be expected from a 37-year-old playing in the second half of a back-to-back set.
Still that didn’t much matter to the Wade fans in attendance, who were happy to cheer for him every time he made a play as the game played out.
In addition to James, Wade and Anthony, Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker attended Wednesday’s game.