Steve Aschburner
Tuesday November 13th, 2007

Fall down seven times, get up eight. That's one way to approach it.

Stop falling down so much. That's another way.

One night in the very near future -- possibly at Charlotte on Tuesday, maybe at home Wednesday against Seattle, quite likely by the weekend trip to Boston and New Jersey -- Miami guard Dwyane Wade will come back to game action from the shoulder and knee surgeries he underwent in May. They were the latest injuries in a medical text's worth of bangs, bruises, ailments and maladies that have befallen the Heat's flashy and frequently hobbled star.

If all goes according to plan, Wade will return to the Heat's lineup, salvage the team's season from a horrible start (1-5) and boost both Miami's spirits and its expectations for a 2008 playoff run to rival what it had in 2006.

Then, based on his résumé (or is it his hospital chart?), Wade will get hurt again, more likely sooner than later. One of these days, it's going to be coach Pat Riley, center Shaquille O'Neal or the 19,600 fans at AmericanAirlines Arena getting pushed off in a wheelchair the way Wade exited that game last February in Houston, a white towel draped over his dislocated left shoulder. They'll be the ones sobbing for what might have been.

It's never a good sign when the idiosyncrasy that kids imitate on the playgrounds -- Michael Jordan's tongue wag, LeBron James' nail-biting, Allen Iverson's sleeve -- is, in Wade's case, a bow-legged limp. As one south Florida writer cracked, we know now how the "y" and the "a" got scrambled in his first name: from all the jarring he has taken through the years in assorted impacts with the floor.

It's not by accident, either, that of the five Faves in Wade's T-Mobile phone, two allegedly are orthopedists, one is a chiropractor. It is a brave man's brand of basketball, apparently learned from his father on concrete and asphalt, growing up in Chicago.

Their own little legends of the fall.

"It's a scary thing,'' Wade told the Palm Beach Post two seasons ago. "You just want to try to come down as quick as possible and pray, man. The only thing you can do is pray. Sometimes when you know the landing is going to be very tough, you'll just be like, 'Lord, please, don't let anything happen to me.' ''

Heading into Miami's game against the Bobcats on Tuesday, Wade had missed 70 of a possible 334 regular-season contests, about 21 percent of its schedule since the Heat drafted him fifth in 2003. Of the top players from that class, Wade has played far fewer games than LeBron James (324 of 336), Carmelo Anthony (310 of 336) or Chris Bosh (302 of 335).

So while lots of us have suggested that, redrafted, Wade would go No. 1 or No. 2 at latest, the fact is, most coaches would rather have James, Anthony, Bosh or even Kirk Hinrich from that first round -- on the too-many nights when those guys are playing and Wade is wearing a suit.

At the rate he's going, by the time Wade has logged 10 years, he'll have missed the equivalent of two full seasons. Which is why he, his team, the Miami fans, real basketball aficionados and, frankly, yours truly would be a lot happier if he took a little better care of himself out on the court. (Full disclosure: As a Marquette grad, I'd rather see Wade rival Maurice Lucas and Doc Rivers in terms of NBA career longevity, rather than Butch Lee or Bo Ellis.)

The stumper, of course, is how? Wade can't shift into tentative mode while playing the way he does now; that would make him too self-conscious, too aware of the daredevil's risks he takes driving to the hoop or diving to the floor. His ability to fall and land instinctively, with a minimum of harm, would be lost. By consciously trying to avoid injuries, Wade probably would invite more.

"He's very instinctual in traffic and landing, and so a lot of times he will fall to the ground and tumble,'' Riley once said. "He's really a good tumbler.'' Which is different, the coach continued, smacking his hands together for effect, than just going splat.

Wade already wears as much padding and tape as he can, while maintaining enough flexibility and quickness to play. Last time we checked, Barry Bonds still was using his body armor and Glenda The Good Witch wasn't giving up her floating bubble.

That leaves C) alter his game. It might be hard to envision at the moment -- Wade, when healthy, is as electrifying and highlight-worthy as any player in the NBA, and he won't turn 26 until January. The reckless abandon with which he plays, the daring-do with which he attacks the rim and challenges opponents seven inches taller and 80 pounds heavier, the physical release and the emotional statements that get made when Wade emerges successful and unscathed from the paint, the pressure put on a defense when it continually fouls and sends the Miami scorer to the line, those are all weapons in his arsenal, things that make him D-Wade.

None of which matters, though, when he's sitting in street clothes. Besides, other great players have adjusted. Guys such as Jordan, Vince Carter and (work in progress) Iverson.

"Michael attacked the rim every time,'' said New Jersey Nets president Rod Thorn, who drafted the former Bulls star. "When you do that, you are going to take some hits. But like Wade, he was very, very good at knowing how to fall.

"All the big scorers, they've got to get fouled. That's why they are big scorers -- they get to the line. The only way you can count on getting there is by attacking the rim.''

After his first retirement, Jordan relied much more on jump shots than in his 1984-1993 incarnation. By the time of his two-year Washington run, he played almost exclusively below the rim. Carter got tired of the punishment he took as a dunkmeister and lingers more on the perimeter. That frustrates some Nets fans, but sure enough, when Vinsanity sprained his right ankle last weekend, how did he do it? Landing on the foot of Boston's Paul Pierce after a dunk. These days, even the Timex-resilient Iverson has grown more careful about the number of times he needs to be spatula-ed off the hardwood.

The toughest part of the transition, though, is doing it by choice, out of self-preservation rather than necessity.

"With Jordan, it was more that he couldn't do the high-wire things all the time,'' an Eastern Conference scout said. "It wasn't a conscious decision. I think Father Time lets you know. A player like Wade, I don't think he can change like that. I think you play, and that's your way.''

Said Thorn: "Once you get caught up in the competition of the game, I don't know that you can hold back. What usually happens is, as you get older, you lose something athletically. So you get clever.

"But when you've got all your ability, you don't care about that.''

Wade might want to start. While it's still his choice.

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