Every story line connected to this champion Heat team seemed to start or end with LeBron James, the vindication, the King finally getting his crown, and you can’t argue much with that narrative considering James had a season comparable to Dan Marino’s record-setting 1984 for the Dolphins — only better because he put a ring on it.
Quietly, though, it was Dwyane Wade who made all of this happen.
There was this snapshot the night all of the burdens lifted, and in it LeBron held the NBA championship trophy in his right hand and his Finals MVP trophy in his left. He wore a champagne-soaked champions T-shirt and a little-boy grin.
It was his moment. He had earned it.
But D-Wade allowed it.
Two years ago, Pat Riley had the forethought and audacity to dream what happened, and it’s fine to credit him as the master architect as long as you realize none of this ever would have happened in the first place if Wade was not here as the magnet that drew James and Chris Bosh to him, to Miami. It was Wade’s friendship with LeBron and his salesmanship and convincing, without which The Decision would have gone differently. Mostly, it was Wade’s willingness to set aside ego and welcome an even bigger star onto his team, into his town, all in the name of winning.
Miami’s biggest star
I wonder what athlete has meant more to South Florida professional sports than Wade? And more and more I think the answer might be, “No one.”
Wade delivered the Heat’s first NBA championship in 2006 by dazzling as the Finals MVP. Then he did more than anyone, even Riley, to bring together the Big 3 that just won the franchise’s second title.
I think Marino probably still owns a bigger piece of our collective heart, partly borne of longevity and partly of the Dolphins dominating what unequivocally was a football town for so long. But if anyone can surpass Marino, it would be Wade. I doubt even James, for all his unparalleled greatness, will ever top D-Wade when Heat fans are discussing their most beloved players.
Nobody wants to hear about sacrifice in sports. We are hardened to think that to players making $15 million a year it must be about the money first, right?
But it wasn’t to the Heat’s Big 3, and it especially wasn’t to Wade this season.
The rest of America’s notion that this was a dislikable team, easy to boo and even hate, always seemed strange to us because we were closer. We saw differently.
We saw Bosh step comfortably down to the unaccustomed role of third scoring option because helping a team win a title trumped his own stats. Then this season we watched him agree to the unaccustomed role of playing center without a trace of objection.
“It was all in the sacrifice of winning,” he said. “I wanted to do whatever it took.”
We saw James’ willingness to leave the comfort zone of his hometown team in Cleveland, where he was the star, to join a team where he wouldn’t be the only star. Then this season, especially in the playoffs and even more so in the Finals, we saw LeBron become the low-post presence that isn’t his favorite role but was the one his team needed him to play.
Doing dirty work
So James, the superstar with zero “diva” in him, began to do all the dirty work, pounding the paint, drawing elbows and bruises, rebounding, earning trips to the free-throw line, dealing assists, playing defense everywhere, never wanting to leave a game.