The Power of One

Sure, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have their teams atop the standings, but what Dwyane Wade has done is no less impressive: single-handedly lift the Heat into playoff contention
January 19, 2009

FLASH AND theTemps, the rock band fronted by Dwyane Wade, doesn't go on tour, preferring toperform exclusively in his rec room. The Temps consist of whichever of Wade'srelatives and friends happens to grab the Guitar Hero World Tour video gameinstruments first. They always leave one for Wade, a.k.a. Flash, the MiamiHeat's spectacular shooting guard who earned the nickname more for the way hedashes past defenders on the court than for the way his fingers fly on thefrets. Even though he admits he's no virtual-reality virtuoso, Wade is theband's lead guitarist—and bass player, and drummer, and lead singer. "Imove around depending on the song," he says. "I like to do itall."

For that, theHeat is exceedingly grateful, because with a group of youngsters surroundinghim—call this team Flash and the Tots—Wade has no choice but to be anall-purpose superstar. "I would say he's doing a little bit of everythingthis year, but that would be wrong," says Orlando Magic coach Stan VanGundy. "He's doing a lot of everything." That includes leading theleague in scoring (29.0 points per game at week's end), mentoring nearly halfof his teammates, helping rookie coach Erik Spoelstra find his footing andplaying the kind of shot-blocking defense rarely seen from a 6'4"guard.

It has so farbeen the finest all-around season of Wade's six-year career—he's averagingcareer highs in points, steals (2.3) and blocks (1.6)—no small accomplishmentconsidering that he already owns a Finals MVP award from the Heat'schampionship year in 2006. He has made such an all-encompassing impact that at19--17 through Sunday, the Heat has already won more games than it did in allof last season, when it finished 15--67 and Wade, not coincidentally, was ashell of his usual self due to injuries. While his fellow hoops luminaries andOlympics buddies Kobe Bryant and LeBron James lead their teams on a titlechase, Wade's performance in lifting Miami to respectability with far lessestablished talent around him has been just as impressive, if somewhat lessnoticed. "You always want to be better than you were the year before, andthis is the first time in a while that I've felt that way," he says. "Ithink this is the best I've been, in terms of all the ways I can contribute tohelp the team win."

A case in pointwas last Friday night, when James propelled the Cleveland Cavaliers past theBoston Celtics 98--83, scoring 38 points in a matchup of the EasternConference's best teams. That performance drew considerably more headlines thanWade's brilliant and exhausting effort hours later in Sacramento, where he had41 points and seven assists and played all but five minutes of the Heat's119--115 overtime victory over the Kings. "I'd like to be up there in thestandings with LeBron, Kobe and those guys, playing for home court advantage,thinking about the Finals," he says. "You think about the veteran teamwe had here two years ago, and you'd like to play with a team like that yourwhole career. But it's not scripted that way, so I embrace the team that wehave, I embrace the energy that these young guys bring every day, even thoughit's a different kind of challenge than what I'm used to."

Most of the vetswho helped Wade bring Miami its first NBA title are gone, replaced by a groupof youngsters who often leave Wade shaking his head, sometimes in appreciationof their talents and sometimes in amusement at their exuberance. Where Wadeonce had Shaquille O'Neal as a frontcourt scoring threat, he now has 6'10"forward Michael Beasley, who so far has shown only flashes of the talent thatmade him the No. 2 pick last June. Instead of wise old head Gary Payton atpoint guard, Wade's backcourt partner is another rookie, Mario Chalmers, asecond-round draft choice who has been a nice surprise but still has much tolearn, especially defensively. The shooter coming off the bench is no longerbattle-tested Antoine Walker, but second-year gunner Daequan Cook, who sawlittle daylight last season. In place of coach Pat Riley's lined visage andfive championship rings there is the smooth-faced Spoelstra, who is 38 andlooks more like 28.

In all there arefive members in the Heat's rotation who have two years experience or less.Power forward Udonis Haslem is the only other player left from the title team,which means that in his sixth season, at the ripe old age of 26, Wade findshimself feeling like the papa bear to a bunch of frisky cubs. A recentshootaround ended with the team dumping a bucket of ice over Beasley tocelebrate his 20th birthday, leaving part of the court covered in cubes and thekids howling with laughter. "Recess time, man," Wade said, smiling."Recess time on the playground."

THE YOUNG oneshave learned quickly that when it's time to get serious, their superstar andcaptain won't put up with frivolity. While Wade says that "it's reallyCoach Spo and the rest of the staff who set the tone," Spoelstraacknowledges that it's easier to exert control with Wade in his corner.Spoelstra, who has served in a variety of capacities for the Heat since 1995,already had a strong relationship with Wade when Riley named him head coachlast April. As an assistant in charge of skill development, he and Wade hadworked in individual sessions to improve his game in several areas, includinghis jump shot. "Being young is not a disadvantage when you know what you'redoing," Wade says. "Coach Spo knows what he's doing." When Wadereturned from the Olympics in Beijing in August, he summoned his teammates toMiami, took them to dinner and expressed to them, among other things, thatSpoelstra had his full support.

Spoelstra, theNBA's second youngest coach (New Jersey's Lawrence Frank is two months younger)does engender respect from his players, but they clearly look up to Wade aswell, and he is growing increasingly comfortable with his stature. "I'mtrying to teach these young guys about the commitment it takes to besuccessful, but I'm learning a lot about leadership at the same time," hesays. "It's not always about being positive and keeping their confidenceup. Sometimes it's about letting them know when they've messed up and that it'snot acceptable, that they're capable of better than that." That demandingattitude extends to the older players as well. In the Sacramento game Wade wasclearly irritated when center Jamaal Magloire fumbled one of his passes,turning a potential layup into a traveling violation. On his way back down thecourt Wade motioned to the coaches to get Haslem into the game for Magloire,and Haslem was quickly sent to the scorer's table.

The young playersare more than a little awed by Wade—"Scary good. Just scary good,"Chalmers says. Despite his offensive production, some of Wade's most impressivefeats have come on the defensive end, like the pair of blocks he made against7'1" New Jersey Nets center Brook Lopez, the second one a clutch rejectionlate in overtime of the Heat's 106--103 victory on Dec. 20. That may have beenthe most crucial block Wade has made this season, but for style points thewinner occurred in Denver last week. Wade was stationed at the foul line whenNen√™, the Nuggets' 6'11" center, caught a pass in the low post and turnedfor a short jump hook. With a couple of quick strides and a leap, Wade slappedthe ball away. "I'm not going to lie, it's fun to go up and get a guy who'sgot five, six inches on you," says Wade. "I like making an unbelievableblock better than a nice dunk. For this team, part of it is showing guys thatyou can use your athleticism at both ends, and I feel like it's myresponsibility to go for something over the top sometimes, to give guys a lift,set a certain tone."

BUT SOMETIMESMiami simply needs points, and getting them has always come easily to Wade. Hehas scored 20 or more in a half 14 times this season, including 24 afterhalftime against Sacramento. Typically, he made his presence felt in almostevery imaginable way in that game, with drives, jump shots, steals and blocks.After the Kings had closed to 102--99, Wade stole an inbounds pass to hold themtemporarily at bay, but Sacramento eventually sent the game into overtime; thenWade added 6'11" center Brad Miller to his list of tall victims by swattinghis shot. For good measure he flashed to the hoop when defender John Salmonsturned his head for a split second and drew a hard foul with 5.3 seconds leftand the score tied at 115. He then made the two free throws for the winningpoints.

Wade also took abone-jarring fall on a flagrant foul from center Spencer Hawes in the fourthquarter, which brought back memories of the nasty landings he has taken inprevious years and the string of injuries they caused. He missed 31 games ineach of the past two seasons with knee and shoulder problems, and he heard thewhispers that he might be the next Penny Hardaway or Steve Francis—stars whowent into early decline because their bodies didn't hold up. But eight weeks ofgrueling workouts in his hometown of Chicago at Attack Athletics, the trainingfacility owned by Tim Grover, best known for training Michael Jordan, had Wadein what he considers to be the best shape of his life by the time he played inthe Olympics last summer. He has also honed his midrange jump shot to reducethe number of times he puts his body at risk on slashes to the rim.

"It seemslike I've been playing for the last eight months straight, and I feel just asgood as I did at the beginning," he says. "I'm not worried aboutgetting tired or getting hurt. I'll play as many minutes as Spo wants me to.I'm just enjoying the good health. Sometimes you don't realize how much you'llmiss something until it's gone."

Perhaps that'swhy Wade has handled Miami's transition from champion to a team that's fightingto make the playoffs (through Sunday, the Heat had the sixth-best record in theEast) with such equanimity. He shows none of the frustration Bryant felt withthe Lakers two summers ago, when he agitated for a trade to escape his weaksupporting cast. Nor is Wade coyly feeding speculation about his plans when hebecomes a free agent in 2010, as James has done. "This is fun," hesays. "I like what we're building here. A few more pieces and we can getback to where this organization used to be." The Heat needs those pieces toemerge quickly, whether it's through the development of players like Beasley orthrough dipping into free agency. While Wade enjoys playing differentinstruments now, that doesn't mean he'll always want to be a one-man band.

"I'm not going to lie," Wade says of hisshot-blocking spree. "IT'S FUN TO GO UP AND GET A GUY who's got five, sixinches on you."

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PHOTOPhotograph by Bob RosatoNO PAIN, NEW DWYANE Healthy for the first time in two seasons, Wade is leading the NBA with 29.0 points per game. PHOTOBILL FRAKES[See caption above] PHOTOVICTOR BALDIZON/NBAE/GETTY IMAGESHIGH LIFE Wade, who's averaging a career best in blocks, snuffed the 7'1" Lopez. PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHWISE YOUNG HAND All of 26, Wade has guided the rookie Spoelstra (left) and mentored players like Chalmers (right). PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH[See caption above]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)