If you’re a fan of the NBA, you’re probably familiar with the so-called Banana Boat Team. But just in case, here’s the quick overview: a few summers ago a goofy photograph made the rounds online. It showed LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and Gabrielle Union (who’s married to Wade) on a banana boat while the stars, and Carmelo Anthony, were on vacation together.
In reality, it was about as innocent as a photo could possibly be. It could only have been more lighthearted if they were all eating ice cream while they drifted by, or if Paul hadn’t looked characteristically annoyed. But in the modern era of superteam building, and particularly in the aftermath of James, Wade, and Chris Bosh conceiving the Heatles during their time with Team USA, the photo was made out to be more. The Banana Boat Team has become a moniker for the semi-realistic fantasy vision of these four stars as the core of an NBA roster during their collective career twilight.
And really, it seems less far-fetched every day. Three points in particular make the Banana Boat Team feel almost like an eventuality rather than a possibility.
1 – These Guys Really Are Best Buds
Much is made of the fact that the structure of modern basketball has turned the NBA into a brotherhood rather than the mishmash of rivals it once was. Elite players get to know each other on the AAU circuit, at major national events, during the college recruitment process, and in some cases playing for USA Basketball. They’re generally familiar if not friendly with each other by the time they’re in the league. But even within this amiable culture, the Banana Boat guys seem like legitimate best buds. James was Paul’s best man; James and Anthony have been tight since the 2003 draft; Paul famously gave a toast at Anthony’s wedding; James and Wade actually are what A-Rod and Jeter were once made out to be. Oh, and they all like to vacation together. This isn’t just a media narrative.
2 – Their Collective Value Is Declining
Even two years ago the idea of the Banana Boat Team actually coming together was unrealistic from a salary standpoint. Yes, NBA players will sometimes take pay cuts to play in good situations, but these were four max value players who couldn’t possibly have fit on one roster. James is still a max guy, and Chris Paul may be for another year or two as well. But as they get a little bit older, Anthony and Wade at least are slipping out of max value territory. Give it another year or two and James will be the only max guy left. It will be much more feasible for a single organization to afford all four players and still round out a roster – though it’ll still be difficult.
3 – They Have No More Loyalties To Teams Or Cities
This sounds harsh, but I really don’t mean it that way. If you believe the speculation that James is on his way out of Cleveland – and it’s pretty hard not to given Cleveland just traded Kyrie Irving for an expiring point guard and a first round pick – then none of these guys has any particularly deep tie to a current team or city. Paul hasn’t played a game yet in Houston, Anthony has been in a tenuous situation with the Knicks for several seasons, and Wade is likely facing a buyout in Chicago. Each of these four players could end up anywhere in another season or two, and they’re nearing the age when they might start to think about what’s last rather than what’s next.
If I had to make a prediction, I’d actually say that the Banana Boat Team will happen, or that we’ll at least get three of four. The guys are certainly keeping their options open, and any owner would feel lucky to have them even if by the time they’re all together they might not be competing for titles. It could happen at either franchise in LA; it could happen in Miami; Mark Cuban would probably love the stunt in Dallas; and I’ve always thought the Knicks are a long shot possibility (Blake Griffin agrees); I can just imagine LeBron trying to revive New York basketball as his final act. And rest assured, unless they’re already in contention (none of them are), those teams would gladly clear the space to sign all four players in another year or two. They’d be insane not to.
But I have another hunch, even if the Banana Boat Team really does come to fruition. What if this is all really about the next generation?
All four of these players happen to have sons who are already being eyed by basketball fanatics as potential stars. They’re all between 8 and 15 years old, and at this point who’s to say they couldn’t all end up in the league?
LeBron James Jr. is (naturally) the most high profile of the bunch. He’s 12 years old, already ranked in his class, and is said to have standing scholarship offers from Kentucky and Duke. Many have speculated about the idea of his reaching the league in time to play with his father, which would be a first in NBA history. And you can already find videos of him playing on YouTube. He’s pretty damn good.
Zaire Wade is the oldest at 15. He’s not getting major offers just yet and may have plateaued a bit from when he was generating highlights at a young age. But we can count Jimmy Butler as one NBA star who’s worked out with Zaire and has spoken about “when he makes it to the league.” He may have a shot.
Kiyan Anthony is just 10, but seems to have a lot of skill for his age. You can find videos of him working out with his dad, and what stands out is that he’s doing it properly. He’s not heaving the ball off his shoulder the way most kids his age will. He’s shooting with good form and working on jab steps.
Chris Paul Jr. is only 8, and therefore the biggest wild card of the group. But he was already stealing the ball from Kobe a few years ago!
Now, quick disclaimer: this idea is completely ridiculous. But it’s fun, and it’s the kind of thing you have to at least wonder about – like imagining Roger Federer’s two sets of twins comprising a mixed doubles final at Wimbledon one day, or anticipating Jack O’Connor and Brian Toretto as the leads in 20 Fast 20 Furious.
LeBron James is already very closely tied to an agency (nothing to see here), and he’ll be wealthy enough to pull a Derek Jeter and buy a team almost immediately after he retires, should he wish to do so. So he could conceivably have some management say in all this. Regardless, all four guys can coach up their little ones and at least get them a better shot than most kids have to get into the league. And we’ve already just seen an NBA dad who wanted his son on a particular team speak it into existence.
Maybe James, Wade, Anthony and Paul can do the same with their first sons over the course of seven years. Maybe those four kids will all be the next generation for whatever organization the Banana Boat Team takes over. Maybe the distinct family vacation vibe of the Banana Boat getaways is an example of how these stars would like to spend their retirement while they watch their children play.
Maybe in another decade or so we’ll look up and see James, Wade, Anthony and Paul playing on the same court, while LeBron, Dwyane, Carmelo, and Chris are riding a Banana Boat along the nearest body of water.
Or maybe I’m just getting carried away because this NBA offseason has been absolutely bonkers.
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