In my opinion

Greg Cote: Wade vs. Durant: Real or ruse?

 


GCOTE@MIAMIHERALD.COM

Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant supposedly are feuding in cyberspace, and it is silly and fun and stupid and great and maybe just plain weird, all at once.

The weird part first: The feud might be a fraud. It might be a stroke of publicity genius-gall orchestrated by Gatorade, and by two of its star clients playing social-media like their own personal Stradivarius.

I mean, they starred as rivals one-upping each other in last season’s wake-from-a-bad-dream commercial. Would it surprise in the least if this week’s little back-and-forth war turned out to be simply a contrived setup for a Gatorade sequel ad?

It would not. Advertisers have stooped lower. And there is no law (yet) against Twitter celebrities using the reach and gullibility of the Internet for their own device.

But what if it isn't a fake? Then it would reveal an underlying poignancy, which would be the only reason the exchange is worth exploring. Even if it IS a fake, it’s the core believability of it – Durant seeming to doubt whether Wade is still elite – that is interesting to me.

Let’s back up. If you haven’t heard, Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar, in an interview with CineSport, objected that his former teammate James Harden was not included in a Sports Illustrated list of the NBA’s 10 best players entering this coming season. (Durant was ranked second, after LeBron James; Wade was eighth). Asked who should be left out to include Harden, Durant replied without hesitation.

“Dwyane Wade!” he said.

The social media age keeps no secrets, of course, and based on Wade’s reaction what Durant said hit a nerve.

“Don’t believe me just watch,” Wade said on Twitter late Tuesday, accompanied by a handwritten note on Instagram that read: “9-24-13. Kevin Durant said James Harden should replace me in the top 10. Note to self: Make him respect your place in history … again.”

(The “again” likely referred to Wade’s Heat beating Durant’s Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals, the second of three championship rings for Wade. Which is three more than Durant, by the way, for those scoring at home).

Durant, not done (or not done with the ruse), fired a Twitter salvo back at Wade, saying, “Show me don’t tweet me.”

All of this is noteworthy on the face of it because it is rare that one NBA star will publicly call out another, and Durant basically was suggesting Wade is overrated. (This is also was makes it suspicious as much as noteworthy).

If it’s real, the little feud is interesting mostly because it would peel back a curtain on Wade’s mind and reveal how sensitive he is to his status as an elite player, and to that being questioned – let alone by a rival all-star.

That wouldn't be cocky ego flexing itself in Wade.

That would be wounded pride.

That would be Wade being forced to confront where he is, career-wise, and where he is headed.

This is why I find this whole thing interesting whether it’s real or a fake. Because even if it’s a fake, the premise – young superstar Durant questioning if older star Wade is still top-10 – is real. It’s reality.

Wade readjusted his pride with grace to accept LeBron as a teammate and know he would no longer be seen as even the best player on his own team.

Now, at age 31 (turning 32 in January), Wade understands – surely even without Durant reminding him, real or pretend – that he is fighting the clock to remain elite.

The All-NBA first-team honors became second-team. The past two years he has been third-team. They only pick three. The consensus top-five on every best-players list has become a disputed top-10.

It is harsh to call Wade in decline, because he remains very good and still is capable of flashes of greatness. But he is no longer the best he has been. When a prominent opponent calls him out on that for real, it hurts. Even if he’s pretend-called-out, it still reminds everybody that Wade is aging.

A fascinating season lay ahead for Wade and the Heat as they prepare to open a four-day training camp on Tuesday in the Bahamas – Miami setting out on its attempt at a third-straight championship.

James, Wade and Chris Bosh all can become free agents in the summer of 2014, as if going for a three-peat wasn't enough drama.

Re-signing James will be Miami’s clear, at-all-costs emphasis.

Wade’s future beyond this season will be in an area more gray, and be an intriguing subtext to the coming season. His situation is complicated by all of the implications of what Durant said and how Wade responded – real or not.

Will Wade, then 32, be a player Miami wants to spend big to re-sign beyond Pat Riley’s famous (and admirable) sense of loyalty? Will he continue to be viewed as at a level to command maximum offers from other teams? Will that level of play be sufficient to make Wade continue as a coveted teammate to LeBron here moving forward?

I still think all of those answers can be yes. Heat fans surely hope so of the most popular player in franchise history – maybe our most loved athlete ever after Dan Marino.

But I also think this week’s Durant/Wade drama, real or contrived, invites us to wonder. And if it’s real, then how Wade responded revealed a raw nerve.

Wade’s Instagram note said he wants to make Durant respect his “place in history.” But it isn't about that. Wade’s place in history as a champion and future Hall of Famer is secure.

This is about his place in 2013 and ‘14.

This is about a great, proud basketball player trying to hold on to “elite” as doubters and time try to take it away.

And that is Dwyane Wade’s truth whether this little cyberspace feud turns out to be real or the setup to a new Gatorade commercial.

Read more Greg Cote stories from the Miami Herald

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