The 2002-03 season was about to mercifully end for the Miami Heat. Miami had one meaningless (or so it appeared) game remaining in Toronto and the team would then turn its attention to the draft.
The Heat and Raptors were tied for the third-worst record in the league with 24 wins each when they met on the final day of the regular season. The thinking was the loser of this game would win in the end, having better odds of moving up in the lottery or maintaining its spot ahead of the other.
The Heat, with a starting lineup of Rasual Butler, Malik Allen, Caron Butler, Anthony Carter and Brian Grant, rallied for a 103-99 victory, outscoring the Raptors by 12 points in the final quarter. The win pushed the Heat’s record to 25-57 (Toronto dropped to 24-58) and, many believed, too close to losing out on one of the draft’s premier players.
The draft was considered top heavy with a once-in-a-generation talent LeBron James, who was entering right out of high school, topping the list that also included three underclassment, Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony, Georgia Tech freshman Chris Bosh and Marquette junior Dwyane Wade, who surged in the final months by leading the Warriors to the Final Four.
And when the draft lottery took place, what many Heat fans feared could happen, happened.
The Cavaliers won the lottery and chairman Gordon Gund said Cleveland would select James. The Heat, though, fell a spot to No. 5 when Memphis moved up to No. 2 from No. 6, a disappointing draw considering the gap between the top four players and No. 5.
The events, though, worked out perfectly for Miami.
If the Heat had lost that regular season finale and maintained the No. 3 pick or even fell no lower than No. 4, chances are they would have selected Bosh over Wade. When Bosh was in Miami for his workout he was told by the Heat that they really like him but believed he would be taken by the time they picked. As it turned out, Bosh was selected one spot ahead of Miami’s pick, going No. 4 to Toronto.
But even more fortunate was Detroit had Memphis’ selection and inexplicably tabbed Darko Milicic of Serbia and Montenegro with the No. 2 pick over Anthony, Bosh or Wade, a pick that has gone down as one of the biggest blunders in draft history. Anthony was then taken third by the Nuggets. Had the Pistons taken one of those three, the other two would have been gone by the time the Heat picked at No. 5, leaving Miami to choose between perhaps Chris Kaman or Kirk Hinrich or T.J. Ford or Michael Sweetney, the players that went sixth through ninth.
As it turned out, the top four became either perennial All-Stars or franchise altering players. And three of them played for the Heat at one time when James and Bosh joined up with Wade in 2010. And while Bosh has had a spectacular career, it is doubtful he would have become the iconic, transcendent player Wade became during his time in Miami.
But, now, 13 years hence that draft, James returned to Cleveland in 2014, Wade is off to Chicago and, ironically, it’s Bosh who remains in Miami.