The NBA I Grew Up Watching: Stars of the 2003 Draft – Part 2

For young hoops fans, the 2003 NBA Draft was one of the most exciting offseason events of its era. High school phenom LeBron James was the headliner of the class, but there were several other potential stars in the mix.

In Part I of our retrospective on this revolutionary group, I remembered James and Carmelo Anthony’s teenage stardom, pre-NBA outlook, and how they fulfilled astronomical expectations.

The NBA I Grew Up Watching: Stars of the 2003 Draft – Part 1

Now I’m turning to another pair of stars, along with a few other standouts that enjoyed productive and prosperous careers.

Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade weren’t as prominent as LeBron and Melo at the time. But they were dynamic prospects in their own right as they also carved out paths to superstardom. Their individual accomplishments and historic collaboration with James on the Heatles put a unique stamp on the sport.

I’ll never forget how deep and captivating this draft crop was:

Dwyane Wade (DRAFTED NO. 5 TO MIAMI HEAT)

As mentioned in Part I, I was glued to the 2003 NCAA Tournament thanks to the Syracuse Orange. However, it was impossible to ignore Wade’s multidimensional feats as he propelled Marquette to the Final Four.

Up until the NCAA tournament, I only had casual knowledge of Wade.

After watching him upend the likes of Missouri, Pittsburgh and Kentucky, I fell in love with his playing style just like so many other did. He flew all over the court from end to end and sideline to sideline with a fluid, acrobatic agility that screamed “NBA.” He exhibited the all-out energy and body sacrifice I had only seen from players like Allen Iverson. 

His energy, inventiveness and athleticism all came together explosively during the Midwest Regional Final. Wade unleashed a triple-double on Kentucky, tallying 29 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds to send the Golden Eagles to the Final Four. Marquette coach Tom Crean did a great job creating avenues for him to attack downhill, and Wade pushed all the right buttons:

I was impressed with Wade’s heroics in the Big Dance and knew he was worthy of a top-five selection. Nevertheless, I was unsure of Wade’s ceiling when he first entered the league. (Perhaps I was too distracted by LeBron and Melo.)

It wasn’t until the 2005 playoffs that I really bought into Wade as an NBA superstar.

The second-year prodigy led the No. 1 seed Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals, and although Miami fell to the Detroit Pistons, Wade’s performance was unforgettable.

The most memorable game of that postseason run was Game 2. Wade’s slashing talent and creativity made him un-guardable for stretches, including a 20-point outburst in the fourth quarter. The way he carried the Heat and lit up the crowd that night showed that he was a franchise-influencing type of player:

He went on to validate those early fireworks by leading Miami to the NBA crown the following season. Wade then kindled the 2010-2014 mini-dynasty with LeBron James, winning a couple more titles in the process.

Like LeBron and Carmelo, Wade was an ’03 draftee who transcended team allegiances and drew league-wide admiration. The fact that he’s the third-most-popular player in that draft class is incredible.

Chris Bosh (Drafted No. 4 to TORONTO RAPTORS)

Chris Bosh wasn’t dominant during his Freshman year at Georgia Tech, nor did he lead the Yellow Jackets on a memorable NCAA tournament run—they lost in the NIT Quarterfinals. So his size and skill dictated his draft value more than postseason success.

Bosh’s mobility, touch and awareness were quite advanced for a 6’10” teenager:

At that time, however, he was little more than just “the guy who was drafted after Carmelo” to me.

Even after Bosh rose to All-Star status as the Toronto Raptors’ alpha dog and won a gold medal with the 2008 Olympic Redeem Team, I still didn’t fully appreciate his value.

It wasn’t until he sacrificed touches and the limelight to be the third option on the Miami Heat that Bosh really began to define himself to the larger NBA audience.

Remember when the Heatles lost in disappointing fashion to the Dallas Mavericks during the 2011 Finals? I was ecstatic for Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs, and I was glad they toppled Miami’s newly-formed super-team. However, in the aftermath of the series-clinching Game 6, hallway cameras got footage of Bosh collapsing to the ground in dismay.

It seemed as though the loss was truly gut-wrenching for him:

That’s when I realized how much Bosh was invested in team success. Suddenly, all of his on-court actions made sense and took on a much higher significance.

This was a guy who was sacrificing the way few typically ever step up to do.

From a legacy standpoint, Bosh might not have had as much at stake as LeBron or D-Wade, but he was distraught. He joined the Heat with the knowledge that he’d likely be the third option and would have to defer to James and Wade, yet he was crushed by the 2011 loss as if he had single-handedly let down Heat Nation.

Of course, Bosh went on to redeem himself and the Heat with back-to-back Larry O’Briens in 2012 and 2013. We can’t credit him enough with making the adjustments necessary to mesh with LeBron and D-Wade, thereby maximizing Miami’s title chances.

His individual production alone warrants Hall-of-Fame discussion—11 All-Star appearances, three different 20-point, 10-rebound seasons, and 19.2 points per game over 13 seasons. But it’s his unselfishness, team-first approach and passion for the game that will mark his legacy. It’s what made him such a valuable draft prospect 17 years ago.

When blood clot issues derailed his playing days early, he exuded that same passion and love for the game in post-career interviews and appearances.

Honorable Mentions

The following standouts deserve love for playing a part in one of the most prolific draft classes in NBA history. Though less illustrious than the superstars at the top, they earned plenty of individual and team success. I’m tipping my cap to them by remembering their peak seasons and my favorite moments:

David West (Drafted No. 18 to New Orleans Hornets)

Best Season (2007-08 Hornets): 20.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 48.2% fg, .140 win shares/48 min, 1.5 box +/-, All Star

Favorite Moment/Favorite Thing About Him: West’s physicality was a crucial component of the early 2010s Indiana Pacers teams that gave the Miami Heat a run for their money. He played with an enforcer mentality on both ends of the court that embodied Indy’s “Blue Collar, Gold Swagger” identity.

Boris Diaw: (Drafted No. 21 to Atlanta Hawks via Indiana Pacers)

Best Season (2005-06 Suns): 13.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 6.2 apg, 52.6% fg, .149 win shares/48 min, 2.8 box +/-

Favorite Moment/Favorite Thing About Him: He was a husky 250 pounds, yet Diaw could nimbly do a little bit of everything on the court. Few point-forwards could manipulate defenses with their eyes like the French maestro. My absolute favorite Diaw play was his behind-the-back dime to Tiago Splitter in the 2014 NBA Finals.

Kendrick Perkins (Drafted No. 27 to Boston Celtics via Memphis Grizzlies)

Best Season (2007-08 Celtics): 6.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 61.5% fg, .165 win shares/48 min, 0.5 box +/-, NBA Champion

Favorite Moment/Favorite Thing About Him: For the blue-collar fans and less-than-agile big men out there, Perk was the perfect role model. The prep-to-pro center wasn’t afraid to go at people defensively. Perkins racked up a ton of fouls because he contested a lot of shots, but his physicality set the tone for his championship-caliber teams.

Josh Howard (Drafted No. 29 to Dallas Mavericks)

Best Season (2006-07 Mavericks: 18.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.2 spg, 45.9% fg, .173 win shares/48 min, 3.1 box +/-, All Star

Favorite Moment/Favorite Thing About Him: Other than his acrobatic defense and slashing, I love that he was one of the last stars to rock the wrist bands. Howard’s career was shorter than most of the other studs listed here due to ACL injuries, but he was an explosive piece for seven playoff runs in 10 seasons.

Mo Williams (Drafted No. 47 to Utah Jazz)

Best Season (2008-09 Cavaliers): 17.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.1 apg, 46.7% 3fg, .165 win shares/48 min, 2.3 box +/-, All Star

Favorite Moment/Favorite Thing About Him: I can’t decide between his 50-burger for the Timberwolves in 2015 or his posterization of Paul Pierce in the 2010 playoffs. Here’s a look at the vicious throwdown from the Alabama dynamo who proved to be a valuable role player at nearly every stop:

Kyle Korver (Drafted No. 51 to Philadelphia 76ers via New Jersey Nets)

Best Season (2014-15 Hawks): 12.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.6 apg, 49.2% 3fg, .148 win shares/48 min, 2.8 box +/-, All Star

Favorite Moment/Favorite Thing About Him: Obviously, I love Korver’s off-ball energy and historic, laser-precise shooting. But his defense doesn’t get enough love. The pride of Creighton is as active and alert as a coach could want, and it’s part of the reason he’s still a legitimate rotational piece in Year 17.

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