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LeBron James takes a half-court shot during practice for the NBA all-star game at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto on Saturday. (Peter Llewellyn/USA Today Sports)
LeBron James takes a half-court shot during practice for the NBA all-star game at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto on Saturday. (Peter Llewellyn/USA Today Sports)

LeBron James leads the NBA’s latest great draft class Add to ...

On the night that he entered the NBA in 2003, someone asked LeBron James to assess the potential of the draft class that he was headlining as the No. 1 pick.

James answered quickly.

“You’ll see,” James said.

People did see, of course. And when it comes to the stars in that class, they’re still seeing.

This all-star weekend has been a celebration of all things Kobe Bryant, whose career ends when his 20th season concludes with the Los Angeles Lakers in a couple months. But his presence in Toronto also left some of the other veterans – like that 2003 draft foursome of James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade – taking stock of their own careers as well.

And while they’re all still playing at an extremely high level, what they’ve already accomplished merits including them in the debate of which draft class was the best. Only four drafts in the past 40 years produced at least three 20,000-point scorers, and the 2003 group is on target to get there in a few weeks when Wade reaches that scoring milestone.

“There’s a lot of great draft classes, man,” Wade said, citing 1984 and 1996 in particular. “We’ve got a good draft class. We’ve got some good players, some Hall of Fame players in our draft class. But it’s hard to compete against the past and what those players have done, especially when you’re doing it still. You don’t get that until it’s all done and everybody sees the full body of work.”

With Bryant, the body of work is easy: five championships, 18 all-star nods, No. 3 on the career scoring list.

But he’ll be gone soon, and other long-time stars such as Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce probably almost certainly aren’t more than a couple years from their final games either.

So as strange as this seems to the players themselves, the 2003 group is on the verge of becoming the NBA’s elder statesmen.

“Look at Kobe’s generation with Kobe, Duncan, Dirk and KG, to name a few,” James said. “We’re the next generation that comes after that, meaning myself, Chris Paul, D-Wade, Chris Bosh, Melo. They paved the way for us. You’ve got Kobe retiring, Timmy D is always on the fence of what he may do, KG as well.

“It’s like ‘Wow, we’re the next wave,’” James added. “It’ll be us next.”

The exploits of the 2003 group are well chronicled.

Wade won his first NBA championship in 2006 for Miami, then added more titles in 2012 and 2013 with Bosh and James as Heat teammates. Wade and James are 12-time all-stars, Bosh is an 11-time selection and Anthony is a nine-time pick. James has four MVP awards and will be generally considered the best player of his era – if not any era.

They may be the best class ever.

James thinks so, for certain.

“I’m definitely biased for sure,” said James, who led the Cleveland Cavaliers to last season’s NBA finals and has them back atop the Eastern Conference standings this season. “You just look at our résumés, the things that we’ve done in our class, we’ve got multiple champions, we’ve got MVPs, we have all-stars, we have everything that you can ask for.”

The sense of nostalgia is kicking in, without question. Wade has savoured this all-star weekend more than he has in previous years. Bosh stuck around even after pulling out of the game with an injury, just to remain part of the festivities. Anthony’s phone has plenty of new videos he took to chronicle the weekend, including his son dunking during the all-star Saturday Night event.

“Every other guy in other classes, they can argue the same thing,” Bosh said, when asked if the 2003 class is the best. “You can talk about hardware and championships and MVPs and things of that nature. Having LeBron helps. Having Dwyane helps. Two of the greatest players ever to play this game. From top to bottom, it was a complete draft.”

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