He has not been here, you understand. It’s just as much new territory for him as it is for the other two, or the other 12. He does not know what it’s like to have this kind of help. O’Neal? There was no alley-oop for him to strut over. O’Neal had been contained, which is why the young gun had to go to the rack time and time again. But he did it. He sacrificed his body. Stop.
That’s an important phrase here. Â Because he did. He sacrificed his body to get that ring. And of all the ones who switched locales this summer, he’s the one who has his own jewelry. He has a legacy to build upon, not rewrite. He has an empire to expand, not rebuild.
Dwyane Wade is his own man, the leader of the pack, and for some reason we continue to not buy into that fact.
Understand that I’m only talking about those so-cliched meanderings of criticism from those that judge every star player by whether or not that gold shines on their hand. LeBron James is a better player than Dwyane Wade. He just is. And not just in theÂ anticipative senses regarding rebounding and defense. We’re talking perimeter shooting. Assists, dynamics. LeBron is some sort of engine that can drive any vehicle to a top seed in conference. And while the quick-to-condemn will pounce upon his failures once that special time comes in spring, it’s not like that Game 5 is indicative of James’ playoff career history. He almost always goes down, guns blazing, trip-doub dancing, perplexing us with how he can be so good and yet his team so incomplete.
But those same attributes that James’ legion of doubting Thomas’ cling to, those that ignore the actual play and the actual dominance and the actual talent? Those same attributes aren’t just dressings on Wade. They’re in his blood stream. They’re hard wired into his codex. They’re plugged into his cortex and run from spinal fluid to fingertips. The man wins. Dragging, pulling, shoving cumbersome, shapeless masses of teams into the playoffs year after year, he’s still succeeded. Â There is a gear in Wade that does not exist in James, nor Bosh, nor Stoudemire, nor, to be honest, Bryant, at this point. Don’t get me wrong, Kobe’s gear is still far out in front of Wade’s when it comes to desire for the W. But Bryant wins games with game winning shots in dramatic fashion. He draws fouls and out-smarts his opponents into succumbing to his very specialized and very individually centric bag of tricks. But Wade? Wade can take over at both ends. That famous, meaningless, regular season game in Chicago being a perfect example of what he’s capable of. He can take over a game where no matter how secure your lead, no matter how stout your defense, it can feel like it’s unraveling just from his steps on the floor. This does not make him a better player than Kobe Bryant. Let me say it again. This does not make him a better player than Kobe Bryant. Who cares about rankings at this point?
No, the point instead is that he is the real lion. Â Or rather, he’s the gryphon behind the lion that is James. He’s already proven himself. Wade has done everything we want of our athletes. Gave their all at a young age. Sacrificed his body. Became a positive, active force in the community (you know why there are so many interviews with Wade over the summer? Because he’s always talking to someone during a charity event). Won a ring. Hungered for more. Demanded his team improve. Re-signed for less money in the city that drafted him. Worked to convince free agents to come to his team. He’s everything we’ve shredded LeBron for and yet still we fail to embrace him fully, and even carry some small degree of disdain for him because…what? His boss is a good salesman? His friends thought he was the one to join? He finally won’t have to do it all?
Watching him with help is going to be bizarre. There’s part of you that’s positive this is going to be the best thing in the world for him, unlocking his full potential and allowing him to be more than the player he was on his own. And there’s part of you that wonders if there’s no way this can work, that he’s too used to, no, too driven to possession of the rock. Not just in the final seconds, but the final minutes, final quarter, second halve. There’s a fear that the body won’t hold up and it’ll be the same wear and tear he went through for us early on that buries him.
But most likely, this is a new era for him, and it’s entirely possible he does take the reins from LeBron and is the leader. He certainly seemed to be that to me in the roughly fifteen seconds I spent in the locker room. The one comfortable and confident enough to screw with the veterans, to talk to the rookies, to conduct himself as both the brand and the player. He’s the one who walked the line and came away clean. You know what it’s reminiscent of? Magic. The young star that comes in and wins immediately, and somehow manages to walk that line: the one between cut-throat desperation to win and laughing, lovable public hero. Even with his custody battle spilled upon the pages and web, he’s sidestepping trouble and will walk away from this for the better. He’s untouchable, even if the shoulder, elbow, knee is not. And mentally? Make no mistake. This distraction will not be one. He has always handled his business and conducted himself as he should. He’ll do the same with this, and when he’s through, he’ll return to the one thing he’s shown to care about more than anything: winning.
For all the talk of how easy they made it on themselves, or how flawed the team is, or the questions of ego and flow, what if this is it? What if this is not the era of James or even a reveal of the Great Triad, but simply the final right framing for what we should have known all along.
Dwyane Wade is the Gamechanger, and he’ll save us all.