The only Air apparent
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
June 20, 2006
Flat on his belly and head propped up on his hands, he watched every soaring dunk, every spinning jumper, every genius pass and ferocious steal. He was just one of a million – one of a hundred million maybe – and just another kid in Chicagoland (Robbins, Ill.) and another kid in the world engrossed by everything the greatest basketball player of all time could do.
"I'm a big dreamer," Dwyane Wade smiled.
Dwyane Wade wanted to "Be like Mike." He even drank the dang Gatorade.
"I remember when the Bulls won their first championship, sitting at home on my floor watching the games," said Wade, just nine years old at the time. "And then Jordan did his shot, his famous shot (the switching-of-hands layup against the Lakers). I went right in the backyard, turned the lights on and couldn't do it myself. I had no athletic ability. I was young."
And so here was Dwyane Wade – just three years into his pro career – having just eviscerated the Dallas Mavericks for 36 more points, 10 more rebounds, five more assists and countless more headaches to give his Miami Heat a 95-92 victory and the NBA championship.
So here was Dwyane Wade – up on the media podium, with the Finals MVP trophy on one side and a bottle of Gatorade Frost on the other.
"Label out," Heat coach Pat Riley laughed. "Make sure the label is out."
And on it goes. On it spins. To the next generation.
All over South Florida, all over America and all over the world, lights were getting flipped on late Tuesday and little kids were out in the backyard, in the driveway or down at the park, spinning and leaping and driving and stealing and – most of all – dreaming. Dreaming big. Dreaming of being Dwyane.
"You know," Wade smiled again, "to me, it's still crazy when I walk around and I see people wearing my jersey, people wearing my shoes, people out there, the demand for 'Wade' stuff. It's still weird to me.
"I'm sure some kids will go in the backyard and try to be like me," he conceded. "And that's great."
The NBA spent years and years trying to manufacture and market this: The Next Michael, the Next Jordan. It has been a steady stream of pretenders. Some lacked the skill. Some lacked the smarts. Almost all lacked the championship mindset that made Jordan the very best when the very most was on the line.
Dwyane Wade, of course, may not even be the best player from his draft class, what with the witnessing of LeBron James up in Cleveland. But LeBron, as great as he is, will be hard-pressed to match this Finals performance. He'll be challenged to clear this bar of greatness. Right now, the ring doesn't lie and Wade has one. LeBron doesn't.
Wade averaged a Jordanesque 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in the Finals. In the last four games, when the Heat went from on the ropes to NBA champs, he averaged a mind-bending 39.3 points. He dominated every single aspect of this series – on offense, on defense and most importantly in the lonely moments where titles are won.
His multiple final-possession field goals and beyond-pressure-filled Game 5 overtime free throws will go down in NBA lore.
So too will his ability to draw whistles and get to the free-throw line even when he hadn't drawn contact – an ability that so frustrated the Mavericks that they mentally lost it and turned into a whining, moaning shell of a team. Wade was so deeply in their heads that they wound up with multiple fines, one suspension, an owner-turned-basket case and a normally sound coach who just unraveled.
During Game 6, Mavericks fans weren't just quiet and resigned down the stretch, as hundreds of them just got up and left with 17.7 seconds remaining even though the game was in doubt until Wade squeezed the final-at-the-buzzer rebound.
It was like they couldn't stand to watch the inevitable. Dallas may have had a chance to still win, but, really, did they?
What Dwyane Wade just did to the Mavericks franchise and fan base was a complete and absolute beatdown in every possible sense of the word.
Oh, and he's only 24 years old.
Dallas had the better team here. Miami had the best player. In basketball, that usually isn't a formula that results in a championship.
But then again, there is nothing normal about Dwyane Wade, whose talent, tenacity and quiet leadership are so powerful that veteran stars like Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Antoine Walker and Gary Payton, all famous for their own considerable egos, willingly deferred to the kid.
"They have so much respect for him because they trusted him," Riley said. "They trusted that he wasn't for himself only. They trusted that he was all about winning."
Wade's ability to put up eye-popping numbers while keeping a demeanor that convinces others that he is anything but selfish may be his greatest skill.
"Dwyane is probably one of the most respected young players this game has had in a long time," Riley said.
Wade is just so unique in the world of professional sports, so unusual and so comfortable in his own skin. He seems to be the last person to realize he is a superstar; the king of South Beach who talks incessantly about playing with his young son.
He is married to his middle school sweetheart, the virtual girl next door. While leading Marquette to the Final Four, he eschewed the traditional trappings of being a big man on campus, choosing instead to get hitched young and start a family.
That's how mature he was then. That was the kind of guy he was in college. Now?
"He's the best in the world, D-Wade," O'Neal said.
For the Mavericks, Wade was the puzzle that they couldn't solve. Not Tuesday. Not in a million Tuesdays. It wasn't, as coach Avery Johnson pointed out, that the Heat were doing anything complex to get him going. Wade just lined it up and shredded them.
They knew what he was going to do. And they knew there was nothing they could do.
"When a player is making those kinds of plays, it's really no tricky play," Johnson said. "He's beating double teams. He's beating triple teams. It's a straight isolation play."
For Riley, this was NBA title No. 5. The first four were won with a collection of Hall of Famers, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. Wade, Riley says, is in his own league.
"You knew Magic was always going to make the right play, get the ball to the right person," Riley said. "But I've never had a player like this who can absolutely at times beat five guys and then, at the same time, make great plays to players.
"He just took it to another level. You all witnessed it. You all watched it."
Avery Johnson, meanwhile, is facing a summer (or longer) of a recurring nightmare – the vision of Wade about to attack and knowing there was no defense.
"He had a lot of will to win … like Jordan," he said. "We tried a lot of things. But he just had a lot of desire to get it done."
It was a desire that was fueled by a dream, started a longtime ago when he was just another nine-year-old in awe of No. 23. It was born on all those nights while propped up watching the magic flash across his TV screen, all those midnight practices and all those dare-to-dream moments.
"My greatest role model as an athlete," Wade said of Jordan.
Like millions and millions, he wanted to "Be like Mike."
So far, he's the only one who's accomplished it.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 3:00 pm, EDT