Listen to Dwyane Wade talk these days and it sounds like catharsis, like a man exhaling. He has survived his personal and professional tumult and come out smiling. Life is good, and Tuesday brought just one more reason to think so.
He had minor surgery on his troublesome left knee the day before.
“Started my rehab today,” Wade told us Tuesday. “I’m up and walking. Got rid of the crutches today.”
Obstacles shed. Moving forward.
Wade had done the national look-back-and-review chats earlier this week, the Sunday Conversation on ESPN and the two-part series with Oprah, who could coax tears from a potted plant. It felt like a sit-down with Dr. Phil would have fit pretty nicely, considering all that has happened in Wade’s life the past seven weeks.
He agreed with a chuckle.
“Been a whirlwind,” he said. “I had to put on many different hats, deal with many different things. But at the end of the day, I think I’ve responded. It hasn’t been easy. I feel like it wouldn’t have happened if I couldn’t deal with it. We all deal with our issues. Basketball has always been my outlet, but when I have frustration on the basketball court, that was a different issue to deal with and overcome.”
Good and bad
His minor surgery and recovery means the sweet, lingering echo of an NBA championship won only 20 days ago is countered by an opportunity lost. The U.S. Olympic basketball team, including Heat teammate LeBron James, is practicing without him for the upcoming London Games, denying Wade a third consecutive Olympics.
“I wish I was there for my last hurrah,” he said.
That would be his last Olympic hurrah, to make it clear. He is counting on plenty more Heat hurrahs — even though that was cast in some doubt less than two months ago. It’s amazing how the vindicating tonic of a title combined with a knee free of pain can throw open the window that lets only sunshine and fresh air in to caress an athlete’s outlook.
The disappointment of not being in London this month is overrun by good stuff. His two boys are safe at home. He is getting healthy again. And, as a bonus, his Heat just signed veteran guard Ray Allen (“I’m so excited. Best shooter in our game”) and Tuesday added Rashard Lewis (“He’s, like, 6-11 and he spreads the floor. We need guys to do that”).
The rest of the NBA moves to close the gap on the champion Heat — the Lakers sign Steve Nash, the Brooklyn Nets angle in on Dwight Howard — but Miami moves to improve, too, adding pieces, growing depth.
And Wade, in many ways the key to the Heat growing its 2012 title into a mini-dynasty, is eager to prove he remains an elite player, something that exploded suddenly into doubt as recently as mid-May.
“I’m only 30!” he said. “Michael Jordan, Kobe [Bryant] — those guys got better at 30. Won multiple championships after that. So I’m just getting started.”
The Miami playoff run that ended in a parade proved a hard, trying road for Wade. For the athlete, and also for the man, the father.
We only know now what he really went through.
May 17: Wade is held to an embarrassing five points in a playoff loss at Indiana that gives the Pacers a 2-1 series lead. “Big trouble,” screams The Miami Herald headline. It was the game in which a frustrated — and injured — Wade shouted at coach Erik Spoelstra on the sideline for all the world to see.
Wade’s knee had been drained of fluid that day. It would have been the truth, not an excuse, to say it. He didn’t. He let his five-point game sit there as inexplicably bad, and heard many in the media and even plenty of Heat fans wonder aloud (and loudly) if Wade had lost a step and was in decline.
“We thought [draining the knee] would give me some relief, but it didn’t have enough time to recover, so it was the worst it’s been,” Wade says now. The entire postseason was spent with ice treatments and cortisone in the hope that Wade’s knee would be OK for games. “So I could feel as good as I could feel for those two-and-a-half hours,” he said. “It was frustrating. You start questioning your ability. Overanalyzing.”
He forgot about his knee June16, the day before Father’s Day, because a worse pain, the kind driven by parental panic, was hitting him in the heart.
That was the day his two sons, Zaire, 10, and Zion, 5, were not returned to him when they should have been from a visitation with their mother. Wade and his high school sweetheart had divorced bitterly, and in March 2011, Wade prevailed in a contentious custody battle.
The boys were missing for eight hours, whereabouts unknown, before being located and flown home from Chicago on a private plane sent by Wade. His ex-wife was arrested.
Game 3 of the NBA Finals tipped off in Miami just after all of this happened.
“I was worried, nervous, scared,” he said. “I dealt with that the whole night. I couldn’t even focus on Game 3. I was worried about their safety.” They landed at 6 a.m. on game day. “That was my Father’s Day gift.”
Personal trials aside, every season in an athlete’s career brings a different motivation, and turning 30 is its own milepost inviting reflection.
Wade is comfortable where he is, comfortable ceding the top of the marquee to league MVP James.
But there also remains a healthy defiance in Wade that will continue to inform his persona and performance. I asked what motivates him now, as a two-time NBA champion at age 30.
“Part of it is always going to be [others’] doubts,” he began.
He said looking in his two sons’ eyes gives him motivation. He mentioned again how Jordan and Bryant continued to excel past age 30.
Then, unsolicited, he volunteered how he ought not be judged just by scoring statistics — not in the context of ceding the spotlight to James in the name of team success.
“I know what’s real. I’m not someone just looking at boxscores, I’m someone who plays the game,” he said. “Adjustments had to be made. People don’t look at my minutes or shot attempts being down. They want to see 30 [points] every night. I’ve shown I can lead the league in scoring but what did that get me? An early exit in the summertime.”
There remains sensitivity in Wade to the assumption of some that his bowing to James’ greatness is a concession to his own diminished skills. He is both defiant and correct in saying, “It has taken away some of my individual greatness, but not my greatness as a teammate.”
It’s all a matter of perspective, anyway.
When you have seen your own mother addicted to heroin and cocaine and overcome her demons, when you have spent eight hours worried your two sons had been stolen by their mother, dealing with the doubts of others seems less daunting.
Dwyane Wade, crutches shed and moving forward, thinks he continues to be an elite player and burns to show that to the world.
It ranks right up there with James’ greatness as the reason the Heat has a chance to be a dynasty.