Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade says his new favorite opponent is his former teammate and returning Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James.
"One thing that Dwyane Wade has never shied away from is a challenge. It's the attitude that has remained with him from blacktops of Chicago through his days at at Marquette University to his 11 years with the Miami Heat.
"Remember back to Wade's first years in the NBA when his slogan was 'fall down seven times, stand up eight.' The concept of always challenging oneself has kept Wade as one of the top competitors in the NBA.
"During the past four years since Wade and the (Miami) Heat have been the team that most others have aspired to beat.
"Four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and two NBA Championships will do that.
"Things are different now, though. With LeBron James' departure, the Heat are no longer considered the 'team to beat' in the Eastern Conference.
"Pat Riley has still put together a very formidable lineup that should have plenty of success in the upcoming season, but things will be much more challenging for the Heat now that the best player in the world has moved on.
"That being the case, Wade is once again embracing the idea that the best way to improve is to go up against the finest competition the league has to offer.
"While Wade had yet to speak publicly about James' decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers until his youth camp in Chicago last week.
"Fielding questions from the youngsters in the camp, Wade was asked who is his favorite player to go up against in the NBA and his answer was more than a little interesting.
"Chicago Bears' blog Windy City Gridiron was there to hear Wade's response (via Hot Hoops).
"'Well, it used to be Kobe Bryant...the second-best of all time,' Wade admitted. 'Now, I have a new favorite player to play against...my former teammate, LeBron James.'
"It's impressive that Wade is so quick to welcome the challenge of welcoming his former running mate.
"Whenver the schedule comes out for the upcoming NBA season, the dates where the Heat play the (Cleveland) Cavaliers are sure to be circled by most fans."
ESPN's Michael Wallace wrote about Wade's loyalty to the Miami Heat on July 16:
"The hashtag spread quickly the moment Dwyane Wade used his Instagram account Tuesday to confirm he signed a new contract and planned to be a Miami Heat for life.
"The symbolism is hard to miss.
"That message, which instantaneously served as a stamp to hundreds of social media posts, was a way of embracing Wade Wade for recommitting to the only NBA team for which he has ever played in his 11-year career. It was also a parting shot at LeBron James, aka King James, from a still grieving group after the four-time league MVP bolted Miami and returned to Cleveland as a free agent last week.
"It was equal parts love for Wade and loathing LeBron.
"The truth is Wade was never going anywhere after he opted out of the final two years and $41 million left on his contract to help the Heat shore up the roster after last month's loss in the Finals to San Antonio. This round of negotiations for Wade, 32, was only a matter of how much less he'd be willing to take and how long the Heat would have to fork over significant -- and potentially crippling -- cap space.
"Wade did the Heat a huge favor on both fronts Tuesday by signing a reported two-year deal worth at least $31 million, which includes a player option for the second season. It was widely believed Wade would push for a four-year, $60 million contract that would essentially guarantee he'd retire as a member of the Heat and never go through high-end free agency again.
"But there's a unique thing about this form of loyalty and sacrifice. By accepting a shorter deal for less money and greater flexibility for the Heat, Wade has locked himself into a lifetime commitment. NBA rules prohibit promises and agreements by teams to take care of players beyond their contracts.
"Still, there's no doubt Wade has only solidified his stake in this franchise, this town, for life. There are only four people getting reservations ahead of Wade at any establishment in Miami."