Never Leave, Dwyane: An Outsider’s Experience in “Wade County”
When I was first approached to write about the Heat, I was excited and more than up for the challenge. I liked the team, knew the strengths and weaknesses of the roster, and had a good feel for the skills of the individual players. However, living on the west coast, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up with a team I didn’t get on my local cable network. While I’ve been able to keep up just fine, I realized that wasn’t the biggest issue I was going to face analyzing the Heat; I didn’t get Dwyane Wade.
Let me expand on that claim. I understood how good prime D-Wade was as a player, and that he can still provide an offensive spark on any given night. I know that he led the Heat to one ring and played a role in acquiring the other two, and that role was underrated by most of America due to a decline in explosiveness and usage with LeBron taking the reins of the offense. I realize he’s a top 10 shooting guard of all time as well as the face of the Heat franchise. However, people in Miami speak of Wade like the Messiah, as if he were Jordan, or as if they’ll never see a player of his caliber again. As great as Wade was and still is, what drove Heat fans to their undying loyalty to him? Well, I went to the Heat game against the Grizzlies this past month, hoping to find an answer to this question. The on the court connection that Wade had to Miami began to show starting as early as warm-ups, and was obvious by the end of the game. Dwyane Wade is always there for the city of Miami.
Watching Dwyane Wade warm up made me feel terrible about any time I’d ever touched a basketball. The way he glided around the court almost seemed TOO effortless. Seeing as this was my first trip to Florida as well, I could tell how similar his mannerisms were to the general laid back, friendly attitude that South Florida possesses. If you took your kids their first Heat game and asked who they thought the best player was, I bet I could guess their answer. It would be the gargantuan seven-footers towering over the referees, camera crew, and interns shagging rebounds, but after they watched the ease with which Wade operates, it would probably be him.
The game itself did not go as smoothly as Wade’s warmup did. It was a rough game for most of the key players on the team, and no one really stood out as exceptional. Goran Dragic submitted one of his worst performances in a Heat uniform, turning the ball over, absolutely terrified of even attempting to finish at the rim. Hassan Whiteside had an equally poor performance as he was physically overpowered by Marc Gasol on the block and gave a very questionable effort when it came to rebounding. He also failed to make an impact affecting shots, and had his 26 game block streak snapped. In addition to the obvious lack of effort, Whiteside does not play physically enough to handle the smarter centers in the league. Gasol is a great player. He took advantage of Whiteside and consistently pinned him under the basket for easy post-up opportunities for the Grizzlies. I wasn’t a fan of Whiteside’s before, but I walked away even less impressed.
Luol Deng attacked the basket well and Chris Bosh came alive in the second half to lead the comeback. Justise Winslow and Beno Udrih had solid contributions off the bench; Udrih looked like a sneaky great addition as a backup to Dragic. Wade, the main event, had his fair share of struggles throughout the game (14 points on 7-16 shooting). I knew I wasn’t watching the old Dwyane Wade, but for the most part he still managed to be effective without being detrimental to the flow of the offense. He uses leverage, intelligence, and footwork extremely well to get himself to his spots on the floor, and can still make opponents back down with his strength in order to make that beautiful fall-way jumper a reliable weapon. Although his first three quarters of play were unspectacular, the way he led the Heat also showed why he was so loved by the fans in Miami.
While the folks in Miami are laid back, they’re absolutely crazy about their sports. They love winning as much as anyone else, and they’ve embraced the Pat Riley culture that guys like Wade embody. Wade was the vocal leader on the court, and was not afraid to use some choice words with Dragic after his struggles. He set the example that he wasn’t going to tolerate getting embarrassed by the Grizzlies, hoping he’d illicit a response from the team. They took the initiative, and led a comeback that brought it to a three-point game with a minute to play. At this point, the tension had peaked in American Airlines Arena, and everyone seemed to know who was going to show up to finish the rally. Wade took the ball at half court, went away from the screen, and got a friendly bounce on a pull-up jumper from the elbow. Ballgame (after a couple clutch free throws from Winslow to ice it).
And that’s what Dwyane Wade does.
He lifts the city up on his back and is there for it whenever need be. He’s been on the Heat for 13 years, granting Miami with far more continuity than usually granted in professional sports. Wade shows constant love for the city of Miami and its people. It’s rare to see an American athlete reciprocate loyalty to a franchise at the same extent of which it’s given to him, but that’s what Wade does. More importantly, he goes out and shows loyalty with his actions rather than just with his words. During the 2005-2006 season when the Heat were making their championship run, Wade was there and was the leader of that team. He delivered the Heat their first title. When the LeBron James circus came to town and Wade was forced to take a secondary role, amid criticism of a deteriorating game, he was there. He never faltered in the face of criticism from talking heads at major sports networks because he knew that hot takes and anti-(whatever team LeBron is on) attitude didn’t matter. This past offseason, when the Heat could only offer him a one year (granted $20 million) contract due to age concerns and bigger fish to try to reel in in 2016 (prepare for Kevin Durant rumors like crazy), he was there. There are other cities that have athletes like this, however I believe they are few and far between. There are very few of Wade’s caliber, and not every city has an athlete subjected to so much scrutiny. Wade is special, and I could tell as soon as the crowd went into a frenzy during player introductions. His dedication to winning and the city of Miami brought him closer to the city than I could have imagined possible before my trip to South Florida. His dedication is the very reason he’ll go down as the most important athlete in the history of Miami sports.