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PHILADELPHIA – No more Flash, Dwyane Wade(notes) says. The basketball caricature had come to outlive its usefulness, an image suddenly too flippant, too young for Wade's changing sensibilities. From his Twitter feed, he declared, ''The artist formally known as Flash no longer exists.''
That's nice and all, but make no mistake: The King still prefers to be called the King. Wade can contort and caress his public persona however he sees fit, but that won't account for the ultimate truth for these Miami Heat. The most dramatic and lasting changes to Wade's basketball self will come with the way LeBron James(notes), the NBA's two-time MVP, decides to incorporate Wade on these Miami Heat.
Does James treat Wade like a partner or a sidekick?
Wade had no interest in detailing his reasons for trashing Flash beyond a stunted, 140-character burst on the 'net. ''The content of my character has changed. I'm a different kind of man … father, an athlete. Evolution is necessary for growth. Change is inevitable.'' And so on, and so forth.
When pressed this week, Wade was uninterested in deeper exploration of those thoughts. After all, opening week doesn't belong to baring souls, but selling shoes. No one wants to get too introspective when they want everyone talking about those fancy new commercials. Remember: New ads, new personas.
LeBron is the self-deprecating, misunderstood softie; D-Wade is D3, the action hero, bringing championships back to Miami.
Yet, as much as this week's about selling shoes for James and Wade, it's also about selling each other on how they'll make this work together in Miami.
So far, James and Wade aren't playing together, as much as they're taking turns. I go. You go. That's natural. For them, this is still the preseason. This is still a test run. James had 31 points on Tuesday in the loss to the Boston Celtics, and Wade had 30 points on Wednesday in a 97-87 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Wade doesn't want this to become James' team, and James doesn't want to give away too much that'll cost him a third straight MVP trophy. There's a push and pull above and below the surface, until the time they can find a comfortable balance. That's human nature. That's basketball.
''We don't want to say, 'It's my turn, it's your turn,' '' Wade said. ''We want to play team basketball. And when stuff breaks down, then we've got some great individual players able to make things happen.''
For everything James' people are doing to try to rehabilitate his image, remember something: He's been charged only with vanity. James can change his storyline with some wiser choices in the public eye, with championships. He's left Cleveland for Miami, and it's always easier to remake yourself when the scenery changes, when there's a new beginning, a new uniform, a new narrative.
For Wade, it's trickier. He's gone through a nasty divorce, a ferocious child custody trial. One source familiar with Wade's thinking said Wednesday: ''He wants to be seen as a grownup. He's trying to take himself into a different stage of his life, as a father and player on that team.''
Even so, Wade's private embarrassments didn't dramatically impact his public image. America's easy that way: D-Wade smiles, does some funny commercials with Charles Barkley, and the bizarre details and accusations of the legal fight with his ex-wife never seem to injure his image. It was such a he-said-she-said affair, it all seemed to be a blur.
What's more, Wade is different. He isn't LeBron. He was raised differently, had different adversities in basketball, had such a different journey to stardom. In a lot of ways, it's always felt like there were far more dimensions to him. Ask Wade a question, and he'll give good, long thought to his answer. He's far more introspective, far more aware of himself in the context of others. He wasn't a childhood prodigy like LeBron, but an under-recruited Prop. 48 who had to sit out a season for Tom Crean at Marquette.
And maybe this will ultimately be the deciding factor in how that relationship evolves on the floor: Wade knows how it feels to be the sidekick, to be overlooked.
Flash is no more, Wade says, but after missing most of the preseason with a hamstring injury, he looked like a superstar again on Wednesday night. He would never let LeBron make those first two games all about him, not with the Heat making a home debut on Friday night in Miami. He needed to get well fast, and he did.
Perhaps these Heat two superstars are sincere about reinventing themselves as a single entity, but that only works in theory. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade can be a cohesive pair, but these are still two of the most commercialized athletes in sports. They're selling different lines of shoes, different drinks, different everything. Something has to give, and chances are, it won't be LeBron James. The King still prefers you call him the King.