What Dwyane Wade is doing on the basketball court this season, and more specifically, recently, has been nothing short of incredible. No, he’s not setting records for scoring, assisting or rebounding. In fact, he doesn’t lead the league in any major (or minor) statistical category and is averaging just 21.7 points per game, his lowest output in his career (save for his rookie season). What he has done, however, is given up a significant part of his game for the benefit of his team. Try to find me one superstar in NBA history who, in his prime, stepped aside for another simply because it was what’s best for his team. In the words of Katt Williams, “don’t worry, I’ll wait.”
You can’t come up with one. I can’t either, and there’s a reason for that. It’s unprecedented. There has never been a NBA star, on the level of Wade, who openly welcomed, and well, pined for a rival superstar to come take over his star role on his team, and then did so well in his new role as sidekick. It’s never happened.
We see countless careers end early because they can’t play a role other than “star.” Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis come to mind. Not that I believe that would have been the case with Wade (an early NBA exit), but it further proves my point of just how hard it is to do. These players are constantly told by their peers, by coaches, by scouts and by their loved ones that they’re the best. They’ve been hearing it since junior high, and it’s not easy to give that up. When you’re a star on the level that Wade is, you’re not supposed to take a backseat to anyone. It’s not even supposed to be in your DNA.
We’ve seen countless scorers and playmakers who never won NBA championships as their respective team’s stars, scorers and go-to guys (think Dominique Wilkins, George Gervin or Allen Iverson). Dwyane Wade did win one, albeit with a nearly deceased Shaquille O’Neal. But he did. And to have the smarts, and the wherewithal to realize that he’s not getting another Shaq, that he needs help to win in the league; to make his job easier, to extend his career… that he can’t do it alone and then go out and recruit the best player in the world in LeBron James, knowing he’s going to have to step aside as “the man” takes a lot of pride-swallowing and ego-squandering. That’s not easy, and honestly, it’s what the game is all about. The key to basketball is bringing as much to the table as possible while taking as little off as possible. The key to winning is doing whatever is best for the team. If that means taking fewer shots and asserting yourself more on defense, then you do it.
We saw “past their prime” guys allow others to take the reigns (think Kareem and Magic), and we certainly saw guys toward the end of their careers chase rings elsewhere, while playing a significantly lesser role for their new team (Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Payton again). We have never seen a player do it in the fashion Dwyane Wade has. We’re quick to forget that D-Wade lead the league in scoring in 2008-09 (his second-to-last season without James and Bosh), averaging a career-best 30.2 points per game. We forget, especially with the eruption of LBJ as a player, that serious arguments were made that Wade was the NBA’s best player. And regardless of what we forget, Wade remembers. Wade remembers having to erupt (46-5-5, 5-7 from deep) in Game 4 of the 2010 Playoffs for his team to avoid being swept by Boston in the first round. He remembers Quentin Richardson, Michael Beasley, Carlos Arroyo and Jermaine O’Neal making up the rest of that Miami team’s starting five in that game. He also remembered what it was like to win a ring.
We all know what followed. The Decision, the loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, the crying in the locker room, the “who should take the last shot” debate. All of which ultimately culminated in a NBA Championship last season, one that LeBron and Heat haters still claim is tainted due to the lockout-shortened season. The Miami Heat team you see today, who because of those criticisms, is better than ever. The last thing you want to give competitive people is a reason to beat you. The Heat seemingly used every joke, criticism, pun and episode of First Take as fuel for their fire, as their competitive edge — the way Michael Jordan used to do it, but collectively.
It was during last year’s playoffs that we saw Wade’s new role really start to come to fruition, when he had his lowest playoff scoring output since his rookie season. It was hard to tell at that point if he was accepting the role or not. What came of it? His second NBA championship.
This season, and especially recently, we’ve seen the Miami Heat hit strides that the franchise has never seen before. They’ve won 16 consecutive games. LeBron James is the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, make no mistake about it, but the role D-Wade grew into is what great teams are all about. Wade is shooting a career-best 52 percent from the field. He become more of a passer, and learned to save himself offensively, thus asserting himself more on the defensive end. He doesn’t take plays off on that end, because he now doesn’t have to carry his team on the offensive end. He’s even chippy at times, which gets his teammates fired up and has even earned a few “dirty player” labels from his peers. Whatever.
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His 5.0 assists per game are his most in any season post-Decision. In the month of February, Wade averaged 23.9/5.5/6.1 on 53 percent shooting, and was a plus-147. He’s started out March similarly and his team hasn’t had a tick in the “L” column since the first day of Black History Month. During the 16-game win streak, Wade has put up 24.5 points, 6.1 dimes and 6.2 rebounds. WoW. Pun intended. The last time he shot under 50 percent in a game was in a February 20 win in Atlanta.
Many superstars don’t know what to do on a basketball court without the ball in their hands. Dwyane does. You hardly ever see him standing around, even when iso’s are run for LeBron. He’s always active, always crashing the offensive and defensive boards, always hustling back on D or looking for the outlet pass. In last night’s 98-97 win over the Orlando Magic, Wade made the biggest defensive play of the game when he blocked Orlando’s DeQuan Jones‘ dunk attempt. Two plays later, he was a decoy while his counterpart, LeBron, took Jones off the dribble to score the game-winning layup. Game, set, match, 16 straight. There are times when I’m watching Heat games and just think to myself, “Man, it looks like they’re having fun.”
And presumably they are. They should be. That’s what the whole 2010 summer was about for these guys, wasn’t it? Play together, takeover the league and have a great time doing it. Some people love it, some hate it, some call it the easy way out. People are or were upset because it isn’t how they would have done it. Call it whatever you want, I’ll just call it… the Way of Wade.
What’s more impressive: LeBron becoming the league’s best player, or Wade accepting it and becoming the best second-banana?
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