The Path is Clear For Wade

Late last year Dwyane Wade found himself at the Miami Heat training facility. It was dark outside. He had popped in to do some restorative work on his body. Expecting to be alone, he was startled by the presence of someone else soaking in the tub. Kobe Bryant had been let in the building by Pat Riley. The next night, Bryant was to play the Heat. Trying to keep his body together in this, his 20th year, was an all consuming challenge for Bryant. Wade saw Kobe and smiled. They were both there for the same reason. Bryant confided in Wade and suggested his kids come to the game the next night. It was probably his last game in Miami. Before he announced his retirement publicly, Kobe Bryant gave Dwyane Wade a heads up.

18 days after Kobe Bryant walked away from the sport with an iconic leave the stage performance, his shooting guard crown has been wrapped around Dwayne Wade. Among active players, Wade is the only shooting guard with 3 championship rings. He is the only shooting guard with two gold medals. He is the only shooting guard who has been to the All-Star game 12 times and was the All-Star game MVP. Klay Thompson and James Harden have a long way to go before they are in the same company as Wade. There is Michael Jordan. There is Kobe Bryant. There is Dwayne Wade.

His infamous commercial of falling down 7 times, standing up 8 was a prophecy for the part of his career that would inhabit his thirties. He absorbed contact in the same way as Allen Iverson and at the back end of that there were going to be injuries. When Wade was at Marquette, he had his meniscus removed, a surgery he later regretted and held responsible for his repetitive knee ailments the past few years. But at the time, Wade had no inkling of his future, that he would be one of the great shooting guards in the history of the NBA.

“At that moment, if everyone looked ahead and said ‘Dwyane’s going to have a 20-year career, maybe we should do something different’ maybe I wouldn’t have [knee issues]. At that time it was to get me back to the basketball court and do what is best.”

What has always been best for Wade was the eternal glow of his mother, Jolinda. She struggled with addiction issues for much of his young life and like many children with a fragile parent, Wade lived the consequence of two disparate worlds. The talent basketball world, and the real life inner-city Chicago world. He was pretty adept at compartmentalizing but once in practice he couldn’t keep the two distinct areas of his life separate. Angry, frustrated, moody because his mother had just turned herself in to authorities, he was not in the right frame of mind and his coach threw him out of practice. Later, Tom Crean found Wade in the hallway, sobbing. That snapshot of Wade in the hall, his head in his hands, tears coming out his eyes, was so incongruent from the player Tom Crean knew, the coach was instantly empathetic. Crean sat down, comforted him and Wade told the entire story. His mother was involved in the drug trade. She had been arrested, granted work release and never went back to prison. A warrant had been issued for her arrest and now she had turned herself in. She was going back to jail. The facts Wade couldn’t change. But the telling of the story released a burden. That was his sophomore year.

His junior year, the NCAA tournament was where Wade became a star and caught the eye of Pat Riley. In the Elite Eight, a matchup against the number one seed Kentucky, he had a triple double: 29 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists. Marquette upset the Wildcats for a berth in the Final Four. Wade was MVP of the Midwest Regional Tournament. His junior year, he was a 21.5 point, 50.1% player, not that different from what was awaiting him in the NBA when he declared for the 2003 draft and Pat Riley selected him 5th.

It was the LeBron James draft, a draft that would have personal implications for Wade that would follow him in Miami. It was at the draft where he met James and they instantly became friends, a relationship that has far exceeded the boundaries of basketball.

Recently Wade entered the 20,000 point club, a testament to his longevity, consistency and productivity. His masterpiece is in the record books, his 2006 NBA Finals performance when the Heat were trailing 0-2. Wade carried them to four straight victories and in the close-out game in Dallas he had 36 points on way to the MVP trophy. The analytics crowd called it the greatest Finals performance since the NBA-ABA merger. Wade had a PER in the Finals of 33.8.

Two more championships later with his best friend James, Wade was loved, hated and loved again. He watched LeBron ditch Miami and go back to Cleveland. It only meant that Wade was exactly where he was when it all started. His contract is up on June 30th and he’ll be a free agent, inking one last deal before he retires.

He has business to attend to first, specifically game 7. As if everyone had forgotten, Wade reminded the world of his talent in Charlotte when he single-handedly staved off elimination, had the last word with an annoying Hornets fan, and generally dominated the last two minutes. He said, “if I’m going out, I’m going out scoring.” If the Heat win in Miami, they keep in tact a possible Eastern Conference Final matchup with LeBron James and the Cavaliers, who the Heat destroyed in the regular season.

A best friend holy war will happen in a couple of weeks if things work out the way Miami has planned. If it happens- please Basketball Gods say yes- no one is discounting a Miami upset.

In the regular season, Wade didn’t score as many points as the year before. His field goal percentage was down. His three point percentage was an atrocious 17.9%. He was a 30 minute a game player. Wade is 34 years old. How many years are left. Three? Four?

But the three time champion is still the benchmark. Every shooting guard in the NBA is now chasing him. Wade is the standard bearer now that Kobe has left the game. It is not just Wade County anymore. That’s much too small for his impact. His footprints in the sand are being measured. Another generation is waiting to be Dwyane Wade.

 

photo via llananba