In one of the most anticipated NBA Finals since the Jordan Era, we are introduced (or re-introduced, if you will) to the incredible talent that is Dwyane Wade. Being a Bulls fan, I watched the Eastern Conference Finals with a smirk on my face as Wade pranced around the court, throwing up shots that left Eric Spoelstra and the rest of the Heat simply confused. After the Bulls’ Game 1 thrashing, I felt a sense of optimism for the rest of the series (admittedly masking the sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach that Game 1 was a fluke). Unfortunately, the next four games were unbelievably frustrating. There were games, such as Game 5, in which I truly felt the Bulls outplayed the Heat. But then there were games that LeBron truly showed he was the most gifted player in the NBA. He was unstoppable on both sides of the court, playing with a fury that isn’t always displayed in his game.
So what happened?
Enter the NBA Finals. The fast paced, limitless Miami Heat, pitted against the ageless wonders, the Dallas Mavericks. Entering the series, the biggest questions seemed to be: Could anyone stop the high-flying momentum of the Miami Heat? and Was there really anyone who could block Dirk’s fade-away from the Heavens?
As Game 5 approaches, the obvious question presents itself: Where is LeBron?
After a Game 4 comeback, Dallas finds itself in a 2-2 stalemate, heading back to Miami. In the 4th quarter of game four, Dallas had everything go its way. Dirk, fueled by a nagging fever, found his groove while its defense stymied numerous attempts by Miami to put the game away. But one thing Dallas didn’t seem to worry about was LeBron James. Attempting only one shot in the 4th quarter while your team repeatedly shoots itself in the foot with bricks from the perimeter and botched layups from Joel Anthony is not the way to leave your mark on the NBA Finals. LeBron played spectator while his team proved once again that no 4th quarter lead is safe. So who is leaving their mark on the Finals?
After the aforementioned sub-par performance in the Eastern Conference Semis, Wade is playing the most impressive basketball of his career. He is driven. He’s demanding. He’s compelling. The only thing more impressive than Dirk’s fade-away (that might actually hit the ceiling at its peak, I’m really not sure) is how creative Wade is on the court. Sure, LeBron may have the most impressive skill set, but Wade has one of the most diverse array of offensive moves that I’ve seen in the NBA in a long time. Post-ups, crossovers, dribble drives, isolations, fade-aways, runners, leaners, and dunks. You name it, he’s made it. But he’s not taking these shots because he thinks he should be the only one shooting. He’s not taking these shots to prove anyone wrong. He’s not taking these shots for the hell of it. He’s taking them to win.
As LeBron plays passenger and the rest of Miami’s offense just looks upset when they have to run a half court set, Wade has taken over games almost by himself. He’s playing these Finals with incredible passion, rivaled by no one else in basketball at this point. He’s attacking the rim like it insulted his family, fouling anyone who comes in the lane and making it hurt, and diving after every loose ball that he sees.
In one of Wade’s defining moments, he was fouled hard by Shawn Marion after viciously attacking the rim. Instead of whining, or winking at the ref after the foul call, Wade stalked Marion around the court for a few moments. The look on his face said nothing in particular; yet the way he slowly followed Marion around let him know that he was here to play. It was one of the most Jordan-esque moments that came from the Miami this year (for those who like making comparisons) and it didn’t come from someone named LeBron.
Wade is playing like the underappreciated superstar.
LeBron is playing like the most talented kid who plays simply because he is the most talented kid.
Having to carry an entire team through the NBA Finals, in addition to carrying the whiny, yet most talented player in league on your back, there’s no reason for me to hate Dwyane Wade. Yes, I felt angry when he resigned to join his playmate in Miami. But as a fan of basketball, especially players who leave their entire game on the court, I really can’t hate Dwyane Wade. Don’t get me wrong—I’d want nothing more than for Dallas to win the NBA Finals. I really dislike the Heat and the way they teamed up. But this was Wade’s team from the start—and it’s truly showing in his performance. No one knows this more than Dwyane Wade.