It was only 33 games, from the end of October 2014 until just after the calendar turned in January 2015, but according to Dion Waiters, the relationship he formed with LeBron James during that time, when both were playing for the Cavaliers early in his NBA career, has been entirely misconstrued.
Because James was said to be behind the trade of Waiters (for new Laker J.R. Smith) to Oklahoma City just ahead of the midpoint of the season, the assumption has long been that the two had a contentious relationship.
He may have been hard-headed, he admits, but he and James grew close during their short time together.
“People don’t even know, when LeBron first got there, he took me under his wing,” said Waiters, now a reserve guard for the Lakers, during a weekend media availability. “I was with him every day, we went out to eat, every day, every day. A lot of things that was out there wasn’t necessarily true. That’s the media. You know me, I don’t really be into that, I don’t really care. I don’t see a lot—I see some but I don’t see most. I don’t care.”
Dion Waiters: ‘I Was so Stubborn Back Then’
Now, Waiters is teammates with James again, playing for the Lakers under much different circumstances. Waiters was 23 and in just his third season when he was with James in Cleveland. There were reports that James had a hard time dealing with young teammates Waiters and Kyrie Irving and he did take veiled shot at the two after a loss in November 2014.
“There’s a lot of bad habits, a lot of bad habits been built up the past couple years,” James said at the time according to Cleveland.com. “When you play that style of basketball, it takes a lot to get it up out of you. … I think a lot of people get it misconstrued on what it takes to win, you know just scoring or just going out and trying to will it yourself.”
There was also a well-known moment in which Waiters called for the ball during a game in Orlando on December 26, 2014, and James completely ignored him. Ten days later, Waiters was traded.
But none of the on-court strife affected Waiters’ relationship with James off the court. Waiters said, looking back, he has much better perspective now. He has been in the league for eight years, with ups and downs in both Oklahoma City and Miami after he left Cleveland.
“Just some things now that I didn’t probably understand when I was young,” Waiters said. “When you’re young, you are just trying to find yourself in the league and I think Bron was trying to help me with that. But I was so stubborn back then. But I understand now, I am 28. I been through a lot. I am at peace with myself, though, so I am good.”
NBA Restart a Critical Time for Dion Waiters
Waiters signed with the Lakers in March with the blessing of James but was not able to get onto the floor before the season was suspended because of the spread of COVID-19 on March 11.
That makes his time in Orlando, where the 2019-20 season is set to restart on Thursday, especially important. He made his first appearances with the Lakers in scrimmages last week and has been impressive—21 points in 33 minutes, with 8-for-16 shooting from the field, 6 rebounds and 2 assists.
He feels comfortable with the Lakers, he said. And being able to play for the team under such extraordinary circumstances—living in a “bubble” environment at a Disney World hotel, doing press conferences virtually—is a reminder that he should cherish the time he gets on the floor.
“[I’m] just a little more older,” he said. “I seen a lot, been through a lot. At this point in my life, I just want to play basketball, take care of my family and enjoy it. Because you never know, you just never know.
“You can see now, we’re living in a movie, with everything going on, who’d think that we would be talking like this? You just never know. I wake up with a goal in mind, just live day-by-day and take it slow. Keep aggressive and try to be a better person on and off the court, a better father also.”