BEIJING – Jerry Colangelo dropped into the most grueling summer of Dwyane Wade's life to inspect the body and mind of a discombobulated superstar. He hadn't come to be a soothing voice of encouragement in the clutches of a career reconstruction. There was no time. Team USA's managing director had a purpose far more practical: To prod the pride of a U.S. Olympian, incite him for a long summer's journey to gold.
Within workout guru Tim Grover's gymnasium on Chicago's West Harrison Street, Colangelo spoke to Wade's face what had been whispered behind the back of the Miami Heat's guard.
"There are a lot of people questioning if you're going to come back, and how you'll come back," Colangelo told him "You came into this league hungrier than heck and led your team to a championship. And now people think you've fallen off with your injuries.
"If I was you, I'd be really upset about that. I'd come in with a chip on my shoulder."
Wade assured Colangelo: "The chip's already there."
Before the shoulder and the knee betrayed him, there were three perimeter players in the NBA and then everyone else: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Wade. On the way there, Wade had never been one of the anointed prodigies. No one considered him much of a pro prospect out of high school in Chicago. And no one had him ticketed as a transcendent NBA talent out of Marquette.
That's always been the way for Wade.
They never see him coming.
"I was written off in one year quicker than anybody had ever been," Wade said in a private moment before practice Tuesday. "Being injured, it was like I had forgotten how to play basketball. But it made me hungry. And it put me back in the position where I've always been. And that's the underdog."
They never did see him coming and maybe the circumstances were perfect for him. Before these Olympic Games, everyone wondered who'd be the MVP for Team USA: Kobe or LeBron. Nike had that rigged. It had to be one of them. And out of nowhere, with a chiseled body and an emboldened spirit, Wade has been the United States' most magnetic player.
"He hasn't just come back at the level he was," Colangelo said, "but above it. He's been fabulous."
Wade won't so much check into Wednesday's game with Australia in the quarterfinals, as he will shoot out of a cannon. He isn't the old Dwyane Wade, he's bigger, stronger and better. He has never had such strength in those shoulders and legs, never leaped higher in his life. He's been the Americans' top scorer with 16.2 points and a destructive force on defense.
Truth be told, Wade has been a force of nature on the pre-Olympic tour and in pool play here. No one has controlled the floor the way that he's done. Redemption has belonged to him.
Since winning the NBA title in 2006, Wade has had two seasons shortened with an assortment of shoulder and knee injuries. Last year, he had two surgeries in the offseason and his body hadn't recovered. He missed Team USA's 2007 training camp and victory at the FIBA Tournament of the America's in Las Vegas. And with 23 games left in the Heat's dismal 15-victory year, Heat president Pat Riley ended Wade's spotty season with a mandate for him to get his body right and get back to his old self.
For years, Wade had worked Grover's Attack Athletics program in Chicago, and now desperately needed him to concoct a rigorous rehab to reconstruct his body with the Olympics closing fast. Grover scripted months of work for Wade and invested over $200,000 in hydraulic equipment to give Wade a state-of-the-art edge. His explosiveness had dissipated over the past year, and more and more the game seemed to be laborious for Wade. What's more, people started to wonder: Had he grown soft and content with all those endorsements, with so much success so fast?
For a player who made his name on sheer will, there was such a strange undercurrent of doubt about his willingness to pay the price. To reach Kobe and LeBron as an NBA star was a monumental climb, but staying there turned out to be even tougher.
"You need things to push you, and I found them," Wade said. "Listen, I won a championship. I've been a Finals MVP. I've had All-Star games. I'm on every commercial you see. My life is good. But you have to keep going, and keep going. There are always guys that are going to push me. LeBron and Kobe are two of the best talents this game has ever seen. If you want your name to be right there with them, you've got to continue working hard.
"There are always things that are going to push you."
Grover worked the body, and well-regarded workout coach Mike Procopio drilled him on the basketball court. As the late spring bled into summer, Wade was able to push his body for longer and longer periods. "From the moment he arrived, there was just a look in his eyes that we hadn't seen before," Procopio said.
Wade became one of the earth's elite with a lot of hours in that gym, but everyone passing through Grover's would just marvel about the desperation to his drive. He let Grover push him to the brink.
"He's always asking questions, 'Am I doing this right?' " Procopio said. "You end up working with a lot of guys who think they know everything, but he doesn't ever go halfway. He's a perfectionist."
When Colangelo stopped into Chicago to visit him, some believed there could be doubt within the Team USA elder's mind about bringing Wade to Beijing. That was never the case. Colangelo had stayed in contact with Grover and was told that Wade was getting closer and closer to preparedness. For Team USA, this wasn't a trip for fat cats. Colangelo wanted to pack longing onto that plane.
Mostly, the executive wanted to get to Chicago and get a look into Wade's eyes. The fitness, the explosiveness, Colangelo could see it returning in the scrimmages he watched that day in May. As much as anything, he wanted Wade's restless vibe crashing his training camp in July, the Olympics in August.
And now, Colangelo's eyes glisten when he tells you, "Dwyane has come on a personal mission," which is all they ever wanted out of him. Team USA's managing director wanted Wade to have that chip on his shoulder and yet he probably never needed to say a word to him. Wade was determined to muscle his way back onto the basketball Rushmore with Kobe and LeBron, and he's done it again.
Once more, they never saw him coming.