To hear LeBron James tell it, the seismic shift of power in the NBA actually began long before this summer's made-for-TV drama that built to the crescendo of him announcing his intention to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
Nope. It goes all the way back to June 2003.
"The day of the draft," James said. "That was the day when this partnership was formed."
The prep phenom out of Ohio was the first overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Bosh left Georgia Tech early and went fourth to Toronto then Wade, fresh off a Final Four trip with Marquette, was taken fifth by the Heat, stamping themselves as the league's next generation of future stars.
"No one even knew (then). We didn't know," James said. "Losing in the world championship and then winning a gold medal (in the Olympics) was once again another opportunity where we were together but didn't know we would be together like this."
That came with Miami's slam-dunk in the most anticipated free agency sweepstakes ever.
James, the two-time league MVP, and Bosh, the main man with the Raptors, both accepted less than what they could have earned had they stayed put to come together with Wade, who similarly took less money when he re-signed with the club he led to the 2006 NBA title. The Miami Roundball Machine was formed, as if the folks in South Beach needed another reason to party.
"We were not afraid to be great, so we've jumped in the water and now it's time to swim," Bosh said of the decision to join his friends from the 2003 draft.
"We're here to win a championship," Wade said simply.
Not that anyone sees Kobe Bryant and the two-time defending champion Lakers or the Dwight Howard-led Magic or the Celtics and their own big three (Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett) as the NBA's answer to the Washington Generals.
But the Heat, on paper, could be that good.
Should be that good.
"I have a lot of motivation," James said, alluding in part to the heat he took for how he announced his plan to sign with Miami (on TV, though money went to a charity), as well as for the need to get a ring he failed to win as the undisputed King in Cleveland.
"It's fun when things happen in life and how people react. A lot of people try to tell you what to do with your life. A lot of times, they don't have their life in order. … I just have to go out and play my game."
That has been the problem for the Big Three so far.
Wade tweaked a hamstring after three minutes of the team's first exhibition game against Detroit on Oct. 5 and has left Miami for Chicago, where he has been working out and waiting to finish a child custody battle. (The team is hoping he will be available for the season opener against Boston on Tuesday.) About a week later, James limped off the court during an exhibition game with a hamstring injury and didn't play again until Monday night. He scored 33 in 29 minutes in a loss to Charlotte.
"We're still working things out," James said last week. "This is a very new team. It's not like we implemented one or two guys in the system and we've all been rolling."
"We've got to be realistic about it," added Udonis Haslem, the former Florida star forward who also took a lot less money (about $10 million over five years) to re-up with the Heat, the team he helped win a title in '06. "We may not hit our peak until maybe the All-Star break. We have guys with great basketball IQ, great basketball minds, and we come in and work hard every day and we make strides to move forward; we don't take steps backward."
To him, the hoopla of the Big Three doesn't mean added pressure to win from the start.
"I understand all the hype, but collectively as a unit, we haven't done anything yet," he said. "The only expectation we want to live up to is the expectations we have in this locker room."
"We all understand this is the ultimate team sport," James said, "and no one individual can win it by himself."
How about a team that has been in the making since 2003? We'll see.
Information from other news organizations was used in this report.