A true friend
There has been a sea-to-shining-sea mocking of James’ mental strength because of this, accusing him of a shrinking frailty, but it could have been a byproduct of an unselfish James deferring in the Finals while trying to fit on a team with imperfectly paired parts — deferring to the good friend who had already won a title. And so now Wade, a year later, tries to return the favor, and endures the kind of playoff inconsistency and criticism in Miami he has never known as a result. The only one not sacrificing his game on today’s Heat is the guy who won MVP.
Wade has said flatly that he feels almost like he wants a title for LeBron more than he wants it for himself. Outside his comfort zone on a balky knee, he has produced a few awful halves and one brutal game (five points) that have left him open, for the first time in his career, to the type of criticism James has been getting relentlessly for the past two seasons, this as James ravages everything in his path. And how’s that for friendship? Choosing to make some of your friend’s burden your own?
“We’re a better team this year,” Wade says. “That comes with what happened last year, learning each other but also going through ups and downs and the biggest down you can for through. Yeah, we’re a better team. Does that mean anything? I guess we’ll find out.”
Miami players have marveled at the intensity James has brought to this truncated season, Udonis Haslem saying, “He’s so loyal, caring and hard-working. He brings it every practice. Guys with that talent can be lazy, but the energy he brings, we all think there is something wrong with him.”
Wade admitted for the first time earlier this year that James is better than he is. No small thing, that, not in this world. To make the long climb from ghettos to mansions, over all the hardships and competition, confidence is a useful weapon but self-awareness is not. There is not a workplace ecosystem as cutthroat as the one you’ll find in sports, especially this sport, where the dollars and men are big but the number of jobs is not — and the impoverished inner cities are fighting for them … and a way out. Confidence, not self-awareness, is why Metta World Peace says “I’m better” when asked how he compares with Wade, and why Ricky Davis once said he had the skills of Michael Jordan, and why Antoine Walker said he thought he was the best player in the league. Confidence, not self-awareness, is why Erik Spoelstra says that, against all logic, Mario Chalmers is the most confident player on the Heat.
So why did you say LeBron was better than you, Dwyane?
“I try to speak the truth,” Wade says. “He is. It’s no secret. That doesn’t take anything away from any other player or myself. I’ve always thought I was one of the best. But, both ends of the floor, his dominance, he’s the best in the NBA.”
Yes, they argue
Because they are real and legitimate friends, Wade and LeBron sometimes get into arguments, like all friends do.
“It’s not really like angry and yelling,” he says. “It is more like we can get on each other’s case without affecting the friendship. We know we have each other’s best interests at hand. I may not have liked it at the moment of the [argument], or vice versa, but you can come back and say, ‘He was right.’ Or ‘You weren’t right.’ When we decided to play together, we decided that we have to be able to criticize each other.”
Wade is asked for an example of a raging disagreement between them. He begins to answer, but has learned to distrust.
“Nah,” he says. “Can’t open up the personal book of what we say. Might get turned around a little bit — a byte of what I say here and there and it becomes bigger.
“Let’s forget about it.”
Magic Johnson has criticized the James-Wade union, calling it too friendly. Wade respectfully dismisses this.
“He has his opinion,” Wade says. “I respect his opinion. But that’s all it is — an opinion. We don’t concern ourselves with opinions on the outside. No one is in our locker room. No one is us. You aren’t walking in our moccasins. Criticize or support us, it is fine. You can’t say what you would or wouldn’t do as us because you aren’t in our locker room.”
Two very good friends will walk out of that locker room Sunday night, into a hostile and frenzied Boston. Lose Sunday to make the series 2-2, and the doubt and criticism and mocking return to test their bond again. Win, though, and it is all but over. You essentially finish not only Boston’s season, but you come back to Miami to finish this era of Boston basketball, forever.
You couldn’t get past these old Celtics when you were apart, LeBron and Dwyane.
Now let’s see what you can do to them when you are more together than you have ever been.