Dwyane Wade watched Kevin Durant against Memphis, and it was like watching a flailing man drown, wave after wave crashing upon him until he had no breath to give. Durant averaged 29 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists per game in the series that ended his season. Those were not merely better than the averages Durant posted in this, the best regular season of his young life. Those were not merely better averages than the ones that just won LeBron James his fourth NBA MVP award. Those were better averages than the ones that represent Michael Jordans entire career. But Durants season is over now, and Wade watched it happen through what felt like a rearview mirror.
That was me, he says.
He nods across the gym over to LeBron.
That was No. 6, too, he says.
A knowing laugh.
Why do you think we did what we did? he asks. I told myself a long time ago: Never again.
Wade is the biggest winner in all this winning. We will never know if LeBron could have or would have done this somewhere else, too, morphed into a master and monster with or without Wades help. But we do know that an aging, hurting Wade would have had to jump over James if No. 6 did not happen to be at his side. Instead, as Durant lost his stars, Wade aligned with his so he would no longer feel as overwhelmed and behind as Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul and Durant must feel today.
Can you imagine Wade trying to topple James for supremacy in his present condition? Wade might not move exactly the way he did, but that move he made three years ago is still serving him. Makes you wonder if hell be the one choosing to take the biggest discount again to keep this together beyond the current contracts.
When you are younger, there are things that you want from the game, he says. Make a name for yourself. Set your family up. Individual stuff. But now all I want is the mountaintop. Thats it. The mountaintop is all that matters.
He heads toward it on a bruised knee that cooperates inconsistently, doubt surrounding him like clouds along the climb.
I dont mind having to prove myself, he says. Ive always had to do that. Im used to it. Once people come to expect something, they expect it all the time. I understand that. Sometimes I laugh at the doubts. Sometimes I use them as fuel. And sometimes it pisses me off. God gave me the gifts for this. Im special.
There is no ego in the way he says Im special, incongruous as that might seem. It is delivered more like a fact than an opinion. He believes in himself, and he cloaks himself in that belief while wearing things others wont and in doing basketball things others dont. That belief has carried Wade out of poverty and desperation and an upbringing that included a mother addicted to drugs, and it has served him as he has climbed out of and over the rough neighborhoods fighting with literal hunger for those basketball dollars. He has spent a lifetime overcoming all manner of obstacles with that belief, and so now he believes in belief with a religious fervor, and he treats it as blasphemy if you dont believe as fervently as he does.
Wouldnt the doubt piss you off? he asks.
Well, no. If you are 100 percent confident in something, anything, the doubt of others does not tend to bother you much, rain sliding off a waxed car. Anger is for the defensive, when an intruder gets too close to a sensitive truth, and the people wondering about Wade are noticing a decline in his health, not his game, though it can be hard to separate those things for the wounded. In other words, it is not personal, and the critics on the outside are doing what Wade himself is doing on the inside.