It's been nearly four years now since LeBron James packed up his talents and took them down to South Beach to join Dwyane Wade and the Heat, but the two-time Finals MVP still has a vivid memory of his thought process that fateful summer. He knows exactly why he left the Cleveland Cavaliers - and last night, after eliminating Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the Brooklyn Nets from the playoffs, he reflected on the role that the two former Celtics played in shaping his career.
"When I was in Cleveland, they were a hump that I couldn't get over," James told reporters in Miami after the Heat won Game 5. "I knew from that point that I needed some help. I saw the way that [the Celtics] played the game, with Ray [Allen] and with Paul and with KG and with [Rajon] Rondo, with the chemistry that those guys had and the weapons that they had, and I knew from that point that I needed some help.
"I don't know if they thought that I would go seek help, but I did. And for me to be in this position today, those guys challenged me. They helped me personally become the player that I am today, and they helped our team become the team that we are today, because they challenged you in so many facets."
James wasn't the only one who remembered losing to those dynastic Celtics. Wade recalled it too - his pre-LeBron Heat were mowed down by the C's in the first round in 2010, and Wade shared James' burning desire to add some extra muscle and take down Boston.
"They were the team that we had to get by," Wade said. "We had to learn how to win, learn how to be. Playing them, when they were in Boston, made us mentally tough, because we couldn't beat them if we weren't mentally strong. That's why we were able to win games like today."
All of those guys have come a long way since those playoff battles in 2010. James and Wade were 25 and 28 years old back then; they're now 29 and 32. Pierce and Garnett were 32 and 33; Pierce is now 36, and KG turns 38 on Monday. Despite their old age today, though, the Heat stars refuse to say goodbye to their longtime rivals.
"I don't think you ever bury those guys - they're unbelievable competitors," said Wade. "I don't even know if we really want to. They bring something out of you. We've had some unbelievable battles versus those guys. We can credit them for the team that we are today."
James also added that despite the trade that sent both Celtics packing for Brooklyn last summer, he still associates them with the C's franchise that they carried for so long.
"As weird as it is seeing them in black and white, you still see green on them," he said. "You still see green on Paul. You still see green on KG. Those guys still just have championship DNA. Being able to compete against those guys in a series is the ultimate for a competitor."