On April 27, 2010, Dwyane Wade sat behind a microphone in Boston’s TD Garden as a defeated but defiant leader of the Miami Heat. He delivered this message: Never again.
On nights like Friday, when he attempted only one shot in the first half against the Chicago Bulls, Wade has to remind himself of that pledge and its underlying meaning. The Heat went out in the first round of the 2010 playoffs despite a Herculean individual effort by Wade, who averaged 33.8 points in five games. He couldn’t do it alone. He needed help.
He brought LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami.
“You can only play this game for so long, and when you leave this game, what memories are you going to have? That’s what I asked myself. What memories do I want to have?” Wade said. “And those memories that I want to have are memories of success as a team. And that’s why you make decisions like this.
“And it’s not easy. It’s hard.”
So there was Wade on Sunday, seated inside a gymnasium at the University of Illinois at Chicago — on the eve of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Heat and the Bulls — answering questions about his lack of production, his inflamed knee, his diminished role … pretty much every topic a superstar would rather not entertain in the middle of a postseason run.
Finally, Wade offered some perspective, a reminder about what exactly he chose to give up when he arrived at that very profound decision to put a team’s success above individual glory.
“If y’all remember my press conference after we lost to Boston that year, I said this first-round exit is not happening again,” Wade said to reporters. “And that was a series where I could shoot at any point I wanted, but that didn’t feel good. That didn’t complete me. So, I have to think about that when I get to the point where I have one shot in the first half. When I have to calm myself down a little bit.”
Wade attempted just seven shots in Game 3. He not only deferred to James and Bosh, but he also facilitated the hot hand of second-year guard Norris Cole, who finished the game with 18 points. There was a time in Wade’s career when he viewed things like shot attempts and stat lines as proof of his greatness. Those days are gone.
Here’s what matters now: The Heat leads his hometown Bulls 2-1, and Miami can take command of its best-of-7 series on Monday with a victory at United Center.
“Would I ever have thought five years ago that I’d be in a playoff game and I’d take seven shots — hell no — but at the end of the game, was I [upset] about it? No,” Wade said. “We won; I moved on; had a great dinner.”
Five years ago, Wade led the league in scoring, averaging over 30 points per game in the 2008-09 season. The Heat then lost in the first round to the Hawks.
“I just want to win, man, and I’ve always wanted to win, but I still had a lot of individual stuff I wanted to prove,” Wade said. “I think five years ago I led the league in scoring. So, I still had to prove that — that I could do certain things, but to me personally, the only thing I need to prove to myself is that I can be a part of a winning team and win.”
Wade’s knee is hurting. That’s the reality of where he finds himself here in early May with about a month’s time separating this series against Chicago and a possible trip to The Finals. Is he angry about that? Heck yes. Of course. So much so that Wade won’t even talk about his knee.
“It is what it is,” Wade said. “I’m dealing with the same thing, and some moments are better than others.”
But Wade helped assemble this team for exactly a scenario such as this. He doesn’t have to take 25 shots a game. He’s content with being the captain — the player who made it all possible and then ceded control of the team to the best player in the world.
On Sunday, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called Wade’s decision making in this series against the Bulls “intelligent” and “mature.” In truth, Wade found that wisdom long before his body began betraying him late in seasons.
“If I was a selfish, then this team never would have been assembled, but with this team assembled and if I was a selfish guy, it never would have worked — myself and LeBron both being alphas,” Wade said. “It would have never worked if I was selfish.”
Unselfishly, Wade is on pace to have the lowest postseason scoring average of his career on possibly one of the best teams in NBA history.