While The Golden State Warriors take up much of the headlines these days and Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs are applauded for their consistency, it seems almost overlooked that the last NBA Finals without LeBron James occurred more than six years ago. And all James did in that 2009-10 season, his last in his first go-round with Cleveland, was win MVP. Its a credit to how much time has passed since his runner-up, Kevin Durant, was still with the Oklahoma City Thunder that season, the third place finisher Kobe Bryant, was still in the league, the fourth-place finisher, Dwight Howard was still with the Orlando Magic and still good enough to even be considered for MVP, and the fifth-place finisher, Dwayne Wade, had yet to become his teammate. In fact, of the Top Ten vote getters, only Dirk Nowitzki is still with the same team today, now in his 19th season with the Dallas Mavericks. Hate on LeBron all you want for leaving Cleveland the first time, but this is the new NBA, and a surprising number of his former teammates really loved playing for him and have forgiven him if they held any animosity at all for him leaving. There are still a few dissenters however, and some of them may surprise you.
With that in mind… Here are 8 Players Who Loved Being LeBron James’ Teammate And 7 Who Hated It
15 Love: Matthew Dellavedova
One of the unexpected heroes of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ run to two straight NBA Finals (and one championship) over the past two seasons, Matthew Dellavedova went on to sign a four year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, for whom he is now playing. Instead of resenting him for leaving, James immediately tweeted him congratulations. The love goes both ways however, as the man who had over a million fans cheering his nickname at the victory parade says “the whole team and city was depending on [LeBron] and how he came through in (games) five, six and seven was amazing. The work he puts in, getting treatment, hitting the weights room, ice baths, he’s watching game tape on the plane… he’s the smartest player I’ve ever played with.” Despite drawing heat from fans for recently calling his new fiancee on Twitter the “best teammate I’ll ever have” instead of bestowing the honor to James, the appreciation of a man who got to play alongside The King during his return to his hometown to bring back a championship is no surprise.
14 Hate: Dion Waiters
After Dion Waiters was traded away from the Cavaliers mid-season in 2014-15, he found himself much happier on his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. When asked why, he didn’t have to search hard for an answer. “Listen,” he said, “they give me the ball. Like, I touch the ball. Like, I actually, like, you know, touch the ball.” Frustrating for anyone sure, but ever the more so for a man that LeBron publicly announced “with every team there is a guy they want to kind of place the blame on, and it will be Dion on our team” at the beginning of the year. When he returned to Cleveland with the visiting team, two weeks after the trade, Waiters told the media that James had not been in contact with him since he was dealt away. “Man he had his chance to reach out,” Waiters added. “I’m not losing any sleep.” Anointed the scapegoat, not passed the ball, and then ignored, at least as far as he sees it, when disposed of. A recipe for hate if there ever was one.
13 Love: James Jones
Plain and simple, LeBron James is “my favorite player ever,” says James Jones. He should be. Jones is the only player to go to all of the past six consecutive finals appearances alongside James. In fact, when LeBron left Miami to return home to Cleveland, there is only one person he wanted to come along with him. According to Jones, he said “Hey, I want you to come with here and help me change this thing and do something special.” He was more than happy to oblige, and understands how lucky he is to have this relationship. “"He knows I'm eternally indebted to him, and most importantly, because he's done that for me, the only thing I want to see him be is the greatest player ever to play this game," Jones said. "My focus here is to win championships and to help him build his legacy so that he's iconic.” For his part, James calls Jones “the greatest teammate I’ve ever had.” He may go on vacation off-the-court with all-stars like Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, but on the court its this journeyman role player that wins James’ affection.
12 Hate: Mario Chalmers
At the Miami Heat media day leading up to the 2014-15 season, Mario Chalmers (Ball Handling Above) referred to the recently-departed-for-Cleveland King James as “that guy,” claiming “it’s going to be the same even though we don’t have [him].” As absurd as a notion as that is for a team losing the undisputed best player in basketball, it was even more absurd coming from a man who drew a lot of James’ attention and even more of his ire over their four years together as teammates. In fact, as the young point guard to the three “Decision” stars Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, and LeBron, Mario quickly earned the moniker of “The Most-Yelled-At-Man in the NBA” from the Wall Street Journal. LeBron most notably exploded at Chalmers during a third-quoter timeout in a tight game against the rival Indiana Pacers in late 2013, though both took to social media to downplay the argument and apologize. Incredibly, rumors have now surface that Mario, who is unsigned as he recovers from an Achilles injury, may join the Cleveland Cavaliers and reunite with James by January of this season.
11 Love: Delonte West
Delonte West played three seasons alongside LeBron James as a journeyman role-player in his mid-20s. He credits LeBron James with helping him through an incredibly stressful time in his life at the start of what would be both of their final season with the Cavs, 2009-10, when West was battling depression and dealing with a weapons charge that he believed would spell the end of the NBA career. As Delonte packed for a road trip in the locker room, James entered and “sat with me in the locker room for like an hour and was rapping it up with me by giving me words of encouragement," West said. "He later walked me down the stairs and said, 'D, I don't know where you're going or what you're about to do, but I'll be right here when you get back.’ My spirits were so high at that point. I don't know what would have happened had I left in the condition I was in prior.”
10 Hate: Delonte West
While this relations began well, it ended in a poor taste. Bizarre rumors started in the playoffs in 2010 that Delonte West was having sex with LeBron James’ mom, and that LeBron had found out before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Celtics, leading to the team’s three straight losses to be knocked out of the playoffs. West had short stints with a couple of NBA teams after that, but he seemingly never recovered from the blow to his reputation. He opened 2016 by taking to Instagram to seemingly threaten James, saying “we are not cool anymore man… u suck jo… u need all stars surrounding u to win… talk about my fam again n watch wats gunna happen.” Sadly, West is clearly still battling his demons, as he was found wearing a hospital gown and no shoes by a fan just a month later in a Jack in the Box parking lot.
9 Love: Mike Miller
"I know on a small scale what scrutiny can do to you, but he knows it on a much larger level,” Mike Miller said of King James. Indeed, if any fellow player has truly witnessed the scrutiny on LeBron, it would be Miller. As a pro, he started attending James’ high school games to see the future star in action, as the teenager was already gaining major national notoriety. They then joined together as teammates for the first time in the qualifying tournament for the 2008 Olympics, strengthening their bond before Miller joined LeBron and the Big Three in Miami for two straight championships. He reunited with James in Cleveland in 2014-5 for one more run at a title, and by that time was such a fan of LeBron that on the sidelines for the finals, he was spotted wearing a James’ warm up shirt, as if he had bought a ticket to the game himself to cheer on his favorite player rather than play alongside him. Sadly, Cleveland had so many injuries to deal with in the series that Miller was indeed thrust into more time than the then 34 year-old role player expected, and the Cavs ultimately fell short of James gifting him a third ring.
8 Hate: 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers
Daniel “Booby” Gibson, Anderson Varejao, and Mo Williams were three of LeBron’s most productive teammates and closest friends in his first half-decade in the league. Shortly after James left, however, Gibson, for one, referred to himself as the “new King of Cleveland” in a toast at his birthday party, sparking a public social media war of words between him and James. As the season ended, he was irked again by LeBron’s comments that he perceived to be about his and his fellow former James teammates’ efforts. He responded, “I think what it all boils down to if you're great, you go play great, be great and everybody will realize you're great. And you wouldn't have to let it be known that everybody else was less great.” As for Williams, he tweeted the day of “The Decision” that “if he knew somewhere else was the destination, he could have spared Cle.” The two men reunited last season, with Williams calling James to gain his blessing to pursue re-joining the Cavs, and they patched things up as Mo finally got to team with LeBron to earn a ring. Varejao, for his part, commented in a 2013 interview that “I think the way he left was wrong.” However, he continued, “regardless … he helped me a lot, helped my game and helped me as a person. I have nothing against him.”
7 Love: Shane Battier
One of the most respected men in the game giving his respect to you should mean a lot, so when “The Professor” Shane Battier says LeBron James could have played at Duke, its no small compliment. “I don’t say that about a lot of guys,” Battier said. “LeBron is one of the few All-Stars who could have played there and survived. You have to be mentally tough. You have to know the game — you can’t be some idiot out there, some dummy running around. You have to play for the team and be selfless. Those are all LeBron James qualities.” The love goes both directions, as James joins many of his peers in saying “he’s probably the No. 1 smartest basketball player and person I’ve been around.” Who knows where King James would have played if he had gone to college, but we agree imaging him alongside Luol Deng and J.J. Redick, who would have been his peers at Duke, is an enticing prospect.
6 Hate: Shaquille O’Neal
Shaquille O'Neal is notorious for not mincing, but simultaneously mixing his words, and his feelings on LeBron James are no different. He joined LeBron and the Cavs at the end of his storied career for the 2009-2010 NBA season, and in his unique Shaq-Fu way, was reportedly happy with the team’s star because “it was the first time I didn’t have to do anything.” But in his 2011 book, Shaq Uncut: My Story”, he was more critical of James, recalling how “our coach, Mike Brown, was a nice guy, but he had to live on edge because nobody was supposed to be confrontational with LeBron. Nobody wanted him to leave Cleveland, so he was allowed to do whatever he wanted to do.” He recalled one particular video session in which Brown showed a clip of LeBron not getting back on defense without commenting on it, before immediately getting on Mo Williams for committing the exact same offense. One thing is for sure. There will be more said on this topic from The Big Aristotle, and it will be undoubtedly entertaining.
5 Love: Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving has seen LeBron James as a mentor far before they became teammates on the Cavaliers. He went to James’ summer camp twice when he was in high school, and when he injured his foot while playing college ball at Duke, he turned to The King for advice. Unsurprisingly then, in just their first year together, Irving was already at a loss for words. “I was just speechless," Irving said as part of a three paragraph heartfelt statement on James during the 2014-15 season. "I became a fan, to be honest with you… when you get to see them up close and the work that he puts in, the dedication that he has and the drive and the will that he has… I think the true testament of him is that he embodies a leader that leads a team.” James and Irving haven’t always melded perfectly however, as cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon pointed out, saying “they’ve clashed how to defend, how to carry one’s self off the court, when to pass and how, among other things.” But they’ve won a championship together now, and as far as Irving is concerned they clicked as teammates the moment “he announced he was coming back. I think that was it.”
4 Hate: Chris Bosh
To some surprise given the success they had together, after James’ departure from the Heat following the 2013-14 season, one of the Big Three had some choice words for what a member of his new Big Three would have to look forward to. "It's going to be very difficult for him," Chris Bosh said of Kevin Love. "Even if I was in his corner and I was able to tell him what to expect and what to do, it still doesn't make any difference. You still have to go through things, you still have to figure out things on your own. It's extremely difficult and extremely frustrating. He's going to have to deal with that.” James only responded vaguely to the accusations coming from multiple corners of the Heat’s locker room, saying “I know a lot of words have been coming out of their camp as of late, and some of it is surprising.” We agree, LeBron.
3 Love: Chris Paul
In what’s now being called “The Banana Boat Brotherhood,” complete with its own snapchat filter, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony went on vacation together in 2015 and an amazing photo emerged of the first three sharing a banana boat ride. By LeBron’s measure, he and Chris Paul first met when they “played together in the same AAU national tournament in eighth grade,” though CP3 recalls it as a high school game. Either way, from the moment they met, they “exchanged numbers and we’ve been talking every day since,” Paul says. The two men are so tight that Paul flew to the hospital to welcome both of LeBron’s children into the world. While all four “Banana Boat Brothers” have briefly been able to be teammates as adults together leading Team USA to Olympic Gold in both 2008 and again in 2012 (though this time minus Wade), recently, Paul has hinted at the possibility that they all could eventually end up on the same team in the NBA. “Anything is possible, definitely," he said. "Anything is possible."
2 Hate: Kevin Love
While things have gotten better (winning tends to help with that), Kevin Love and LeBron James got off to a bumpy start. They hadn’t even reached the end of their first year together yet when Love noted “we’re not best friends,” which may have been in some way a response to LeBron publicly calling him out on Twitter to “just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special!” and leaving him out of an Instagram pic showing a half dozen Cavs players with the title “Clique Up!!” Love even pre-maturely picked the league MVP that year to be… Russell Westbrook (it went to Steph Curry.) Even as they mounted a comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals the next season, during a Game 5 play a video appeared to show James refusing to give Love a high-five. Love played a key role however in the Game 7 victory to give LeBron his hometown championship, and the two may finally have hit their stride this year. LeBron even took to Instagram to sing Happy Birthday to his teammate in early September. So far so good…
1 Love: Dwyane Wade
Anyone who can get rabid Indians fan LeBron James to don a full Cubs uniform because he won a bet must be more than just a teammate who liked playing with him. Yes, Chicago’s own Dwyane Wade has now joined Cleveland’s native son LeBron in returning to his hometown to try to lead them to a championship, but their friendship spans back well before their four year professional relationship as teammates for the Miami Heat. They originally met in the 2003 NBA Draft Combine, where James, Wade, Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony were all in the first five picks. They are so close at this point that when D-Wade was running late for a recent dinner out with LeBron, he told him to order for him instead of his own wife, actress Gabrielle Union, who was sitting right across from James. When LeBron was hours from announcing he was leaving the Heat to return home, at a moment when Wade would have all the reason in the world to hate him, they were instead sharing a flight together back from a vacation in Las Vegas. He didn’t even recruit LeBron to stay, saying “that’s all I ever will be is Dwayne the friend.”