"LeBron, first of all, he's a guy who always plays his cards close to the vest, but I knew his ultimate goal was to be in Los Angeles. He recruited me and he talked to me about signing there (Cleveland), and I said, 'Listen, I know you might not be there long, you're gonna be a free agent and there are some things that might happen, and we'll have a conversation.' I just thought I'd make it through the season first."
Wade told Vardon he went to lunch with James on the day he was traded back to Miami, and while James didn't directly discuss his future plans, Wade knew what direction his longtime friend was leaning.
"It wasn't like he came out said 'Oh, you're traded, I'm going to the Lakers,' but like I said, I knew where his heart was and what he was thinking big picture," Wade said.
Wade's departure from Cleveland was part of a trade spree by the Cavaliers in an attempt to reshape their roster around James with the hope he'd sign a long-term extension. While that didn't happen, the Cavs did make their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance last season.
Wade, who said he didn't ask any questions about the deal sending him to the Heat, explained to Vardon he prepared to stay in Cleveland for the entire season and detailed his response to the Golden State Warriors' sweep of the Cavs in the Finals.
"Of course that was my reaction," Wade said. "I'm watching it like, 'That's why I went there, to play in this series.'"
Last summer, James did leave Cleveland to sign with the Lakers as Wade expected, and Wade re-signed in Miami for one final season before retirement.
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After winning back-to-back titles together with the Heat in 2012 and 2013, they faced each other for the final time in early December. The NBA's gold standard discussed how their relationship endured whether they were playing on the same team or not.
"That's just us," James told reporters. "Some people say you shouldn't be friends with your competitors. But even with our friendship, we competed against each other and we pushed each other."
They came into the league together as part of the 2003 NBA draft class, and they'll eventually end up alongside each other in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.