The NBA Finals is the ultimate stage where players’ legacies are defined.
One can roll through any barbershop in the country, at any point of the year, and all the basketball arguments begin and end with: “What did he do in the Finals?” or “how many rings he got?” It’s the only sport that instantly correlates individual success with the number of championships won. This reality is one of the main reasons why the first achievement that anyone distinguishes Michael Jordan for are his six titles. Man, Bill Russell doesn’t have to worry about scoring titles (zero) or MVPs (five) because no one will ever top his 11 rings. His status as “the greatest winner ever” has forever been cemented due to those 11 ‘ships. Eventually, they had to rename the Finals MVP Award as the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.
This supreme emphasis on winning holds a lot of weight towards the public’s perception of a player.
Thus, it’s no surprise that the whole world is gravitated to LeBron James and whether he can finally win a championship. Even the likelihood of Kevin Durant winning a title now at 23 years old and embarking on a dynastic run of his own is extremely intriguing.
And while those two own the storylines that everyone is watching the Finals for, they are not the only ones that should be under the microscope. They shouldn’t dominate the headlines, either. It wouldn’t be fair to single them out without mentioning another all-time great and his destiny.
The other cat whose legacy is being rewritten as the series progresses and should garner the same level of scrutiny is Dwyane Wade.
Back in 2006, Kob’ made the Raptors extinct with his 81 points and Nas almost killed rap when he dropped the controversial Hip Hop Is Dead album. In between these seminal events, though, Wade broke out in the Finals.
In only his third year in the league, he supplanted the rest of that historic 2003 Draft class to become the first crowned as a champion. After being down 2-0 to the Mavericks, Wade took over the series with scoring performances of 42, 36, 43, and 36 in the next four games to finish the deal. His 34.7 scoring average was good for third-best all-time in the Finals; only His Airness and The Diesel have topped it (and in those last four games, he averaged 39.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals). And he still holds the best Finals PER of 33.8 post NBA-ABA merger, according to ESPN’s John Hollinger.
Wade rose to hoops heaven as quickly as his Shaq-dubbed nickname, Flash.
His instant overnight celebrity must have been the inspiration behind fellow Chicagoan Twista‘s hit single. Every media member wanted to profile him, and every kid imagined him as a 21st century version of William Gates and Arthur Agee‘s Hoop Dreams. There wasn’t anything Wade touched that didn’t turn into gold. His game and mild-mannered charisma spoke for itself, the league’s newest poster boy.
“I don’t know that Jordan ever played a better Finals. He’s the best in the league right now, and winning is what sets him apart from the other perimeter guys. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Carmelo Anthony are great and may eventually lead teams to championships. But the difference between Dwyane and Kobe is that when the Lakers won, Kobe had a huge part of it â€” but Shaq was the lead guy. Last season Dwyane was the lead guy. He led them to a championship,” said Stan Van Gundy in a SI cover piece of Wade as their Sportsman of the Year.
Rather than kids singing along to a catchy “Be Like Mike” Gatorade jingle, they’d follow Wade navigate through traffic in an NBA game. And T-Mobile made sure he was on everyone’s “Fave Five.” These commercials, however, serve as a prism into Wade’s world and how he’s been perceived by fans. The former showcases the competitor and nerd sides of Wade, which he still prominently displays on the court by attacking the rim and at a news conference with his attire. The latter, meanwhile, alludes to the popularity that everybody wants to talk to a living legend like him, not an old one like Sir Charles. And Wade is still being fairly talked: he has 455,058 total mentions and is the second-ranked player overall at the moment, per Sprint’s Finals Pulse on NBA.com.
However, it is D-Wade’s shoe deal that should be examined further to realize the gradual descent in his legacy.
He came into the league endorsing the defunct Converse brand. Chuck Taylor’s haven’t been in the sneaker game vogue since Larry Legend and Magic Johnson‘s Converse Weapons. He wanted to revitalize and lead the rebranding of a basketball shoe that has not been relevant for an entire generation. While LeBron and ‘Melo pocketed hefty endorsement contracts with Nike and Jordan Brand for $90 and $18 million, respectively, before taking a dribble, Wade had to settle with a mere $400,000 to be the face of the Star. There were only so many times he’d be able to rock those kicks, though, in spite of his will to stand up eight.
In 2009, Darren Rovell reported that Wade’s signature Cons sales were off by 50 percent from the previous year.
Later that same year, D-Wade tweeted, “I’m finally home with brand Jordan.” This response came after he teased his followers with this tweet: “good news coming…..stay tuned.” All of this hoopla was intended to generate interest. Even Andy Roddick replied back to him because a lot people thought it may been to inform them about a possible extension with the Heat, which he, obviously, did not.
What was more alarming about this switch in shoe alliances, he still had three more years on his agreement with Converse, and he told the Associated Press that he premeditated this venture a year prior since he had “concern over Converse’s long-term viability in the basketball marketplace.”
Consequently, the lack of time and involvement by Wade through the course of the deal resulted in a partnership that wasn’t sustainable. He was never fully invested with Converse to help innovate a product and market it in a cool way. Sneakerheads were never given the chance to get hyped for his Cons. Instead, he opted to follow the footsteps of ‘Melo and CP3 to represent the shadows of Mike’s greatness.
And for all the flak and hate that LeBron got for “The Decision” and needing to join forces with the game’s best, Wade has been conveniently left unbothered throughout their time together. Media and fans believe he can do no wrong because he has a Finals MVP and a ring. Who knew that NBA greats are now treated like NFL quarterbacks? Only in football is there a standard where winning a Super Bowl and maintaining a high level of dominance suffices to remain among the elite. Wade hasn’t dealt with the same ire directed towards LeBron these past two seasons. He’s been chillin’ in South Beach off his past laurels for an eternity now.
Charles Barkley, never shy to share his thoughts, virtually echoed this stance before this year’s playoffs began: “You know the thing that’s funny? Dwyane Wade never gets any criticism because he didn’t close in the Finals last year. I actually think LeBron got tired. He used a lot of energy shutting down Derrick Rose. Then he had to guard Jason Terry. But it’s funny how Wade doesn’t get any criticism for not finishing in the Finals last year. Wade’s a great offensive player, but LeBron makes everyone around him better.”
How did D-Wade respond? With a sense of obstinacy: “He has a job to do. Whatever he’s going to say, he can say it. It doesn’t change the time I go to sleep, the time I wake up, and what I do in-between. It’s TV ratings. It’s not going to change ’06. So sorry, Charles, it’s not going to change ’06 at all.”
Six years have already passed since Wade’s coronation, yet what he did last season against an older version of the Mavs is simply bypassed as if it never happened. He still refers back to his one glorious moment.
Maybe he feels that last season’s Finals collapse against Dallas should only be the burden of LeBron. Maybe he has selective amnesia to recall the last time he played in the Finals. Maybe he can’t acknowledge the impact his legacy will have through how he performed last year and in these present Finals.
All of these possibilities should be criminal on Wade’s behalf. Although he did possess the highest scoring average in last year’s Finals (26.5 PPG), that isn’t enough to stay safe for a player of his caliber. As often as the public brings up LeBron’s pathetic fourth quarter, Wade should take equal blame. During those six fourth quarters, Wade dropped seven, six, seven, seven, ten, and four points, respectively. That scoring line wasn’t going to cut it. He needed to elevate his game to epic levels in order to compensate for LeBron’s inexplicable absence, not stand there helplessly waiting for the so-called “King” to arrive.
This lack of desire to single-handedly take control has continued and become more evident today.
“For our team to be as successful as we need to be, we need him to be the best player in the world,” D-Wade said recently, as we covered in a recent Smack.
For Wade to make this open admission, it’s universally unethical in basketball circles. No great player in their right mind would ever yield their status to another, teammate or not. That’s like Shaq or Kobe having such an acknowledgement to the other â€” it wasn’t, isn’t and shouldn’t happen. Not even Russell Westbrook would genuinely cede his standing to Durantula as they’re playing together, especially not after his 43-point onslaught in Game 4. Self-belief is the single vice that matters most in a hooper.
The Finals stats Wade has posted thus far are irrelevant. Nobody is going to remember what he did against the Thunder because LeBron has taken over. He seems perfectly fine taking a backseat as the world witnesses LeBron take a seat on his long-awaited throne. At age 30, it doesn’t make sense for Wade to defer to someone else while he’s still in his prime. He should want to closeout the Finals with the same reckless abandon he did in 2006. Hell, all he has to do is look over to Westbrook for a reminder.
As the Heat are on the brink of a second franchise title, D-Wade isn’t the focal point or the driving force behind this Finals clincher. Once upon a time, Dwyane Wade transformed himself to Flash. He let us imagine the next Jordan or Kobe came from the CHI. This time, he’s a sidekick to the real superheroes stealing the show.
Within the next week or so, go get a lineup or a cut at your local barbershop. Listen to the debates taken place… and for the omission of Wade’s name.
Does Wade’s legacy need another memorable Finals performance?
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