Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Deviousness of Dwyane Wade

"LeBron's over there, you guys. Look!" (Reuters/Benoit Tessier photo)
The most obvious – and rightly so – storyline coming out of the Finals is LeBron James procuring his first NBA Championship. Dwyane Wade getting a second ring is notable, and Chris Bosh getting title number one will either be lost in the shuffle or mentioned with the same importance of Mike Miller’s maybe-retirement.

Last night’s series clinching, Game 5 win proved the Heat’s formula can work. Get some superstars, surround them with the right role players at the right (low) price, and with a little luck (see: Derrick Rose’s first-round knee injury all but eliminating the Chicago Bulls’ title hopes; Avery Bradley undergoing surgery for a shoulder injury when he could potentially have swung the seven-game Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics), win the NBA’s most coveted trophy.

It’s been a long two years for players, fans and media members alike. The path has been fraught with actions and statements now familiar to anyone with a passing interest in the pro game. And while James has been under a microscope, Wade has been under decidedly less pressure.

At least where outsiders are concerned.

Remember, prior to the Heatles, Dwyane Wade ran the show in Miami. But when Boston was making a push toward the Finals, at least one pundit was putting Wade’s head on the chopping block if the Heat failed to overcome the Celts.

That’s one reason it was so important that James have a huge season. If not, he would remain in a ringless purgatory and ideas about trading Wade would be more and more common.

LeBron had a banner year – statistically speaking, and by reigning in MVP awards for both the regular season and the Finals – and was at least partially correct when, before Game 5, he said, “I’m the leader of this team.”

Not a leader. The leader.

The situation called for big talk, and James delivered. Wade stayed silent, swallowing his pride and taking the backseat as he did all season. His less-than-stellar postseason didn’t matter because LeBron could have been playing 1-on-5 and won at least two games in the Finals. The patter of LBJ’s footsteps to South Beach were heard by critics as a proclamation of him accepting a secondary role to Wade.

But, after sharing the court for a season that ended with the Dallas Mavericks hoisting their O’Brien Trophy, Wade got it. It clicked. There would be no more trading opportunities to make plays. No more two-superstar routine. James would be the Heat’s centerpiece and Wade would share the glorified role player status usually reserved for Bosh.

Wade made a conscious decision to be the Mega-Pippen that LeBron was supposed to be upon arriving in Miami.

Still, there’s a nagging feeling that James is the brawn to Wade’s brain. It was, after all, Wade who first embraced the bad guy tag attached to the Heat after the Big Three convened, showing LeBron there was no need to apologize after any perceived misstep, no need to hold back. With a little push, LBJ took the same attitude to the court, allowing Wade to take the backseat on a championship run in which No. 6 did all the heavy lifting.

Even from the very beginning, didn’t it seem like Wade was pulling the strings? He didn’t spurn a city where he endeared himself. He attracted two other top-tier players to join him. Wade even let James have the spotlight, avoiding a Decision-like debacle by appearing on SportsCenter with Bosh to jointly announce their respective re-signing and signing with Heat.

Bosh, James and Wade all made their official announcements on July 7, 2010. More than a month before, Yahoo! NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted something that resounds now more than ever. In response to LeBron calling himself the ringleader of the free agent class, Wojnarowski said, “No, Dwayne Wade is the ringleader – with one.”

Thanks to his maneuvering and management, Wade now has two championships to his name. But that’s not the story. The narrative now shifts from LeBron’s struggle to get his first ring to LeBron’s first title defense. Wade will be under the radar, and he’s alright with that.

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