The friendship shared between LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony has spanned nearly two decades. All but Paul entered the NBA in 2003. All but Wade have served in major leadership positions within the player's union. The four of them delivered an impassioned speech on gun violence at the 2016 ESPY Awards. Most famously, they were photographed on a banana boat together on a 2015 vacation.
Combinations of them have played together at various points. All four played for Team USA's 2008 Redeem Team, but in the NBA, no more than two of them have ever been together at a time. James and Wade spent four seasons together with the Miami Heat. Paul and Anthony united for 11 games with the Houston Rockets last season. But in an appearance on Bleacher Report's "Take it There with Taylor Rooks," Paul explained that at one point, at least three of them almost played together.
.@CP3 says part of the Banana Boat Crew almost teamed up in the past—and not to count out them teaming up in the future 👀— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 26, 2020
The Point God dishes on that and more on the newest “Take It There” with @TaylorRooks https://t.co/Nm2pTW1TpX pic.twitter.com/fVBhQb4Kxy
"Me, Bron and D almost had a chance one time, but we didn't know who was gonna wear No. 3," Paul said. When asked when and where this could have happened, Paul would only say it was within the past 15 years. So when would it have been possible? There are a number of theoretical inflection points in which uniting the three of them might have been possible.
- The summer of 2018 was by far the likeliest moment in which the four of them could have teamed up. It is the only point in their careers in which Paul, James and Wade were all free agents, and at that point, it was apparent that Anthony would hit free agency through a buyout soon enough. Wade and Anthony both wound up signing minimum-salary deals for the 2018-19 season, whereas James and Paul both made the max. Functionally speaking, that meant that any team hoping to add all four needed to either have the cap space to sign two max deals outright (which the Lakers had), or already have one of their Bird Rights and the space underneath the luxury tax apron to fit another through a sign-and-trade (as the Rockets did in their pursuit of James). If it was ever really going to happen, it was almost certainly at this point.
- James and Wade were free agents in 2014. At that point, Paul was a member of the Clippers. James obviously went on to play in Los Angeles with the Lakers, but at the time, the Clippers did not have the cap space to pursue even one superstar free agent, much less two. If James and Wade had indicated that they planned to join the Clippers, however, they likely would have been willing to orchestrate trades for Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and any other players they'd need to clear.
- Paul was available for trade during the brief 2011 offseason. The Heat potentially could have traded Chris Bosh to the then-New Orleans Hornets in a package for Paul, but then-commissioner David Stern made it clear that his preference was a package based around younger players and draft picks when he rejected a trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers. Even if the Hornets would have accepted Bosh, there is no guarantee that Miami would have dealt him.
- James and Wade hit free agency for the first time in 2010. At that point, Paul still had two years remaining on his Hornets deal, so a trade was unlikely. James and Wade either would have had to sign with the Hornets, which seems enormously unlikely considering neither met with them, or they would have had to have signed with a team that had enough trade assets left over to swing a deal for Paul at a higher value than the Clippers got him for a year later. The Chicago Bulls probably could have dealt Derrick Rose for Paul, but almost certainly would have rejected the mere idea of trading their hometown hero. Perhaps the New York Knicks could have traded the package they actually shipped out for Anthony to New Orleans to Paul.
Beyond those points, there are no obvious moments in which a union of the three superstars was likely. What we can say for certain is that they wanted to make it happen. James confirmed that himself in a 2017 interview with Bleacher Report's Howard Beck.
"I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together," James said. "At least one, maybe one or two seasons -- me, Melo, D-Wade, CP -- we can get a year in. I would actually take a pay cut to do that."
At this point, the combination of all four seems incredibly unlikely. Wade is retired. The Lakers had months to consider signing Anthony and chose not to. Paul still has two seasons remaining on an enormous deal that will be difficult to move -- though not as hard as once believed based on his incredible campaign with the Thunder. The window is probably closed, so the closest we'll ever come to seeing the Banana Boat Crew together is wondering what might have been.