After LeBron James decided to trade his snow boots for a pair of John Cletas and bolt Cleveland for South Beach in the summer of 2010, most of the jabber surrounding LeBron and his new teammate Dwayne Wade – already a World Champion by the time “The Chosen One” arrived- consisted of media pitting the two against each other.
The questions swirled like a Miami Hurricane; Is it LBJ’s team? Is it Wade’s team? Who’s the first option? Who’s the go-to guy? Who takes the game-winner?
The rumblings increased following a disappointing loss in The Big Three's first Finals friction against Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks. The pro-Wade cats felt like Wade was the man with the master plan. He had the hardware, winning his first c’hip with Shaq in 2006. The young prince, however, was still chasing his first taste of immortality. LeBron worshippers wanted Wade to step aside and let the second coming of Michael Jordan finally earn his stripes.
Something had to give and it was Wade. He didn't just accept his diminished role as NBA's best hypeman with diplomatic silence. He transformed himself into the loud battery pack that fueled LBJ’s charge to consecutive c’hips. Now, the dynamic duo have a chance to three-peat, something only five teams have done in the league's 67 years: the 1952-54 Minneapolis Lakers, the 1959-1966 Boston Celtics, the 1991-93 Chicago Bulls, the 1996-98 Chicago Bulls and the 2000-02 Los Angeles Lakers.
The final stretch of a glorious and somewhat predictable journey (LBJ did say they were fin' to win six of those bad boys) begins Thursday night with Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals in San Antonio.
If the Heat beat the Spurs for the second straight year, then Dr. Wade deserves a ton of props. After all, Wade learned his psychological warfare from one of the NBA’s all-time motivators, competitors and giants in Shaquille O’Neal. When Shaq left LA after winning three c'hips in four years and signed as a free agent, joining a rising superstar named Dwayne Wade in Miami, it wasn’t an instant match. Miami sorted out early chemistry issues and finished the regular season 52-30. They had the second-best record in the conference, but Detroit still had a powerhouse cooking, and finished the regular season with 64 wins. Most heads felt the two-time defending Eastern Conference champ were the “perfect team” and the favorites to come out of The East.
Miami took the new age "Bad Boys" out in six and advanced to the Finals, but dug an 0-2 hole against the Mavs. Enter the legendary anecdote about Shaq coming to Wade and imploring him to dig deep down, take first–option responsibility and carry Miami on his superior shoulders.
This was a big deal and it obviously was the tweaking Wade needed. I mean, Shaq just spent a clip in LA winning three consecutive titles with Bryant and all the while viciously jockeying for position and retention of his top spot. He was pursued by Pat Riley and Miami to save a struggling franchise. Now he's begging Wade to be the man? Shaq called upon his inner Phil Jackson and worked his Jedi mind tricks to perfection, even going as far as to suggest that Wade was better than Kobe Bryant.
It was weird and Shaq’s proclamation was considered hyperbole by most heads. But in retrospect, it gave Wade the ego boost and vote of confidence the Young G needed to produced historical performances in games three, four, and five, marking his ascension from great young baller to superstar. It was the same level of execution that premature spectators expected Paul George to reach in his third unsuccessful try at dethroning Miami in the ECF.
Wade scored 121 points in three straight W's to help the left-for-dead Heat snatch a 3-2 series lead. In Game 3 Wade tied his career playoff high with 42 points and grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds.
This series actually looked like a wrap for the Heat with 6½ minutes left in Game 3 when they trailed by 13 at home, but Wade flushed fifteen of those 42 points in the decisive fourth quarter, in which the Heat erased a 13-point deficit over the final 6:29 with a 22–7 run.
He didn’t stop rocking in Game 6. The Heat closed out the series behind Wade's 36 points. Miami became just the third team in NBA Finals history to win a series after dropping the first two games, and the first to do it after losing Games 1 and 2 by double-digit margins. At the time, Wade became the fifth youngest player in NBA history to capture NBA Finals MVP honors and recorded the third highest scoring average by a player in his first NBA Finals (34.7 ppg). According to ESPN’s John Hollinger, Wade’s 33.8 PER in the NBA finals ranks as the greatest Finals performance since the NBA-ABA merger.
Shaquille O'Neal spent 3 ½ seasons with the Heat after his Hollywood soap opera eroded and he was acquired in a trade that sent Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a first-round pick to the Lakers. O'Neal's presence helped the Heat reach the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. The most significant consequence of Miami’s first franchise c’hip is that the series marked a “willful” passing of the baton from one superstar to another. There was a clear exchange of power. It needed to happen for Miami to get over the hump and Shaq – hungry to prove he never needed Kobe to get his – put it all on Wade. And the boy came through in the clutch like Sansa stark for Lord Petyr Baelish when he was facing a possible murder rap for killing the Queen.
Peep the whole scene and the way it’s going down around me, brain kind of cloudy… (It was seven years ago)
A 3-pointer from the corner by James Posey off a dish from Wade made it 87-81 with 3:41 left, but Dallas inched to 89-88 when Jerry Stackhouse drilled a patented trey from the corner with 1:37 remaining. A putback by Udonis Haslem made it 91-88 with 1:21 left. Josh Howard stuck a J and made it a one-point game with 42 ticks left. Wade, who was in warp world attack mode, went to the line after colliding with Nowitzki and knocked down a pair for a three-point lead with 26.2 seconds left.
The legend of Superman and Mighty Mouse was born.
"He just took it to another level," said Heat's President Pat Riley, who coached Miami to the c'hip after snatching the HC gig from Stan Van Gundy in 2006. "You all witnessed it. You all watched it. Players like that are very hard to come by, and to watch them grow right in front of you, you know, he's making his legacy in his third year. We're blessed to have him."
When you are a legend pursuing multiple championships, the road to victory is as much about the psychological hustle as possessing superior talent. While Shaq’s career tailed off and he left Miami in a huff, Wade never turned back from the attack mode gear Shaq Fu kick started.
At the 2008 Summer Olympics, Wade led the U.S. squad, commonly known as the "Redeem Team", in scoring, and helped them captured the gold in Beijing, China. In the 2008-09 season, Wade became “that dude” and earned his first NBA scoring title.
He also retained all of those jewels Shaq dropped and used it to help LBJ embrace his inner-champion. It’s not only prolonged Wade’s injury-plagued career, but killing any potential controversy and anointing LBJ as the King of Miami has enabled Wade to win two more chips and close the gap on Shaq and his other contemporaries with multiple rings.
There are just seven players flossing at least four championships and at least one NBA Finals MVP award: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, John Havlicek, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and the Spurs’ Tim Duncan. This season Wade could become the eighth.
If that happens, Wade can reflect fondly on that 2011 Finals loss and how he handled the situation moving forward.
LeBron's career was at a crossroads after getting ripped by Dallas. He didn’t have the excuse of a meatloaf supporting cast anymore. Chris Bosh was averaging close to 24 and 10 with Toronto and D Wade was in his prime. Before the 2012 season Wade pulled a Shaquille O’Neal and told LeBron to take the reins and lead the Heat to the promise land. Wade understood the significance of the moment. He didn’t want his NBA resume to be one ring with Shaq and a bunch of numbers. From the moment LBJ touched ground in Miami, his legacy was permanently tied to that of the other members of the Big Three – especially his No 2, General Wade.
So Wade amped LeBron in the same manner Shaq motivated him in '06. He sat King James down and probably said something like this; "It’s time to breath brother. It’s time to assume your spot at the top of the game. I’m a willing noble in your court and I don’t mind being The Hand of The King."
The last time Dwayne Wade played in an NBA Finals game, the 32-year-old guard needed fluid drained from his left knee and hours of hardcore game-day treatment just to get into uniform. Despite his physical condition – somewhat deteriorated by over 800 NBA games – he still managed to go for 23 points and 10 boards in helping to lift Miami to its second consecutive Larry O'Brien Trophy. The most lethal second-fiddle since Kobe played his role to perfection.
With Wade's rediscovered bounce in his rickety knees and his incomparable ability to motivate the maestro, The Return of Flash has some people thinking Miami in 5. Through his first 14 games of the 2013 playoffs, Wade was averaging 13.6 points.This postseason he averaged an easy 19.8 ppg and 4.7 assists on 54.5 percent shooting in the East Finals against the stingy Pacers.
"He’s a big-time, huge piece to our puzzle," four-time NBA MVP LBJ said. "To have him out there in the groove that he’s in right now, it’s going to help us."
Wade keeps Miami and LeBron James lit and legit.