Arash Markazi
Thursday July 31st, 2008

Dwyane Wade is used to the questions by now. Like a radio talk-show host breezing past the umpteenth rhetorical "Hey, how you doing?" line from a caller, he says he's fine before moving on to more pertinent issues.

It's understandable that the Miami Heat guard would want to change the subject: He's been dogged by health questions after missing a combined 62 games the past two seasons. But as he prepares with Team USA for the Beijing Olympics (where he'll try to make up for recent sour experiences in international competition), the 2006 Finals MVP insists he's pain-free and still committed to playing aggressively like he always has.

"I hope all these questions leave because I'm healthy," Wade said recently. "My knee feels good. No pain. I'm the strongest I've been in a long time. I'm looking forward to being healthy and winning a gold medal."

It isn't entirely up to Wade to bring back a gold medal for Team USA (which had sixth- and third-place finishes in the 2002 and 2006 world championships, respectively, and won the bronze at the 2004 Olympics), but he is approaching the challenge as if it is. Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Carlos Boozer are the only holdovers from the '04 team that finished 5-3 in Athens.

"It was a joke. It was just a bad mix," Wade said. "We weren't a team. There was no commitment from player to player. No one outside of the first team knew when they would play. I maybe got five minutes a game. It's completely different this year. This is a team."

Wade was so upset by his first Olympic experience that he has no idea what he did with the bronze medal. Same goes for the third-place medal he received after the world championships two years ago.

"I don't want to look at them," he said.

Team USA, once referred to as the Dream Team back when it won gold medals, is nicknamed the Redeem Team this year. It's a clever play on words for a squad looking for redemption, but it also fits Wade. The four-time All-Star has missed 31 games each of the past two seasons, many of those because of a left knee injury that has often made him look like a shadow of the player who led the Heat to their only championship. He sat out the final 21 games of 2007-08 as Miami limped to a 15-win season, prompting some to suggest that Wade's physical style of driving to the basket was finally beginning to take its toll on his body and that he would have to change his game.

"You don't change your game. You alter certain things," said the 26-year-old Wade, who worked on his outside shooting during his time off. "That comes with age and that goes with everybody. Everybody adds a piece to their game every year, but why would I change my game? You might as well get rid of me because I can't be the player you all want me to be if I do that. I'm going to continue to play the way I play. My body can't do what it did at 21 without injuries; it's just about altering certain things as you get older."

Wade resumed workouts this summer, pushing his body like a driver testing out a new car. He attacked the basket time after time during Team USA practices. Wade also surprised himself with what he was able to do during a charity game he co-hosted with Alonzo Mourning in Miami a few weeks ago.

"Chris Paul threw me a lob and I caught it backward and took it down and dunked it," Wade said. "I hadn't done that since my rookie year when I was flying. I didn't feel like I had an injury."

It was the moment Wade was waiting for. After the dunk, he later said that he thought to himself, Oh, yeah, it's back; it's totally back. It's a thought Wade plans on having about the state of USA Basketball after the Olympics. In fact, Wade is so confident that Team USA will win gold that he's already planned a series of post-Olympic parties around the country.

"I know some people might doubt us, but I've been in this game long enough to know that basketball is like the game of life," said Wade, who is expected to serve as sixth man for the U.S. team. "Things are going to change. Good things are going to happen, bad things are going to happen, but you have to move on. All we're focused on now is winning the gold and being the best in the world."

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