Do you remember that made-for-TV Isiah Thomas movie from years ago? I suppose I could have prefaced that by asking if you remember made-for-TV movies in the first place, since nobody but HBO seems to do them anymore. When I was growing up, though, they were a TV programming staple. Rarely great and intentionally heavy-handed, they basically filled the void of parenting for latchkey kids. The one I’m speaking of was called A Mother’s Courage: The Mary Thomas Story and starred the criminally underrated Alfre Woodard as Isiah’s mom. The movie detailed Zeke’s upbringing from inner city child to hoops star.
They don’t make movies like that anymore, nor do they make players likc Isiah anymore. His story is especially interesting, considering how he wasn’t ever the face of the League and, yet, he was a central figure in everything that happened in basketball from the early ’80s well into the ’00s. He won a title at Indiana, was the leader of the Bad Boy Pistons, got unfairly excluded from the Dream Team, worked as Executive VP for the NBA’s first international team in Toronto, did the TV analyst thing with Bob Costas on NBC, owned the CBA, coached the Pacers, and presided over the Knicks debacle as their President of Basketball Operations. Isiah’s story is still unfolding, too. He just graduated from Cal-Berkley with a Masters degree in Education.
MC Hammer couldn’t touch that résumé. When you read it, you sorta can’t believe that he’s been involved in all of these things. There’s only one person playing now who has the potential to approach what Zeke has done.
We’re talking Dwyane Wade here.
Think about it. We are in Year 10 of the Wade Era. He’s been overshadowed by LeBron James and Kobe Bryant for the entirety of his career, and Kevin Durant, arguably, for the last couple of seasons.
He doesn’t have any league-wide awards that typically and easily define players on the hierarchy scale. He didn’t win ROY and he hasn’t won any regular season MVPs. When he was selected fifth in the ’03 Draft, nobody said a thing. Not that being drafted fifth in the lottery is a slap in the face by any standard, but people at the time were wholly satisfied with saying that LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Darko Milicic going ahead of him was okay. (Being a 6´4 shooting guard with a busted jumper will cause those kinds of problems.) His endorsement deal with Converse flopped, and his subsequent deal with Jordan Brand fizzled out without much fanfare. He had to sign with Chinese brand Li Ning.
He’s amongst the most popular players in the game. He’s the one from that draft with the early championship hardware. He’s the one who bogarted his way to a ’06 Finals MVP, leading a team full of some of the most strong-willed players in recent memory in Shaq, ’Zo and Gary Payton in the process. He’s been voted to just as many All-Star Games (nine) as James; he’s the one who orchestrated the triumph of bringing James and Bosh to Miami. He’s the one that led the Redeem Team in scoring . He’s the one who divorced his wife and got custody of their kids (even for a celebrity, that’s not a cakewalk, since judges often side with the mother) and wrote a book about fatherhood. He’s the one with the most famous wife/girlfriend in the League, and he’s the won who spearheaded the Leagues current style revolution.
And he’s about to get fitted for a third title ring...probably.
He’s already a HOF lock, but more so, he is the player from this era that has the most interesting story. The question now is: Are we coming up on the end or just the entryway to the next phase of this story?
Dwyane Wade has missed 124 regular season games in his career. He has not been “injury prone,” but he has been undoubtedly prone to getting injured. If he wasn’t such an iconic figure in South Florida, he might not be here anymore. It’s hard to build a consistent winner when your best player misses three games a month and is gimpy in another two or three. Wade has played through his injuries when he has had to and sat down when he had to. His attacking, angular style is ripe with sideswipes, awkward arm extensions and gasp-inducing landings. Injuries are a byproduct of how he plays and just genetics. He always seems to be on the mat, and even, via a smartly executed Converse ad, brought comic relief to the subject. Remember the “fall down seven times and get up eight” commercial? Of course you do.
His style seems destined for early demise. But does that start now? One of the dominant themes of the Heat’s Eastern Conference Final match up with Indiana is Wade’s health. It’s the fulcrum on which the whole playoffs swing. He’s already mentioned that complete health is a pipe dream now. He’ll only heal during the offseason. For now, he’s going at a reduced rate. A cheaper, big-box store version of DWade is what we will see, even if the high-priced Bloomingdale’s version is what sticks in our minds.
During parts of the semifinals battle with Chicago, it seemed like he was really struggling with his knee. He only averaged 13 points per game against the Bulls and was mostly neutralized as both an offensive and defensive threat. Only in the series-clinching Game 5 did we see the player we know, raising up for jumpers and slamming in putbacks with ferocity. That’s the Wade that we want to see. The one that makes all this adulation legit. If he’s at 80 percent, then it’s go time. If he’s at 50 percent, or a ghastly number even lower than that, then who knows what to expect. Indiana is a physical team, totally aware that the odds aren’t in their favor. They are going to try to get Wade out of the game any way they can. In Game 1’s Heat victory, he put up 19 points, six rebounds and five assists, and shot 9-15 from the field. He even played 41 minutes, and though he had moments where you could see the regression of his game, he countered that with vintage moments of greatness. If can provide those numbers, Miami is good to go. If not, then the chances of a Miami repeat change.
Part of the masterful campaign of convincing one of the 15 best players in the League’s history to come and play with you, is that you can have injuries or off-nights and not have catastrophic effects. LeBron James allows Wade to pace himself, to allow the healing to take place.
His legacy is set regardless, but for those who experience intoxication in discussions of where exactly he stands in the all-time hierarchy, this is a major deal. For all we know, Wade might only have two years left. We’ve gotten spoiled in this era, where we see dudes like Kevin Garnett and Jason Kidd approach the double-decade mark and say to our subconscious selves, “Wade might play until he’s 35 or 36.” But that’s not the case. He’s only 31, yet his body has already slowed considerably. He never had much of a three-point shot, so when you see him heave one up, you wonder if he’s settling. Don’t wonder anymore; know it. He is settling because he has to. He can no longer drive to the rim whenever he wants to. It has to be strategic. He can’t afford to waste ventures into the lane. At this point, it’s fall down approximately 5000 times, and one these days, he may not get up.
Is he a top 50 guy? Yeah, he is. He’s one of the most exciting players in the history of the League and will likely end up somewhere in the top 30. He’s been too dominant not to end up there. But none of us can take anything that we’ve seen for granted.
What Wade, and by extension the Miami Heat, are hoping is that the next group of headlines reads something like, “The demise of DWade was greatly exaggerated.”
Regardless, he is slowly but surely turning into Dwayne Wayne. Wasting opportunities can’t happen. Winning another ring and solidifying his place, and his team’s place, in the pantheon of sports greatness matters. Those are the stakes here.