For a brief moment Wednesday night, the armor was lifted and, with the right eyes, you could see into Dwyane Wade’s soul — observe the working parts that motivate one of the toughest competitors in professional sports.
“This is my life,” he said. “I am not supposed to be at this podium right now. I’ve always tried to overcome.”
In one form or another, Wade’s life has been about overcoming adversity. So, if you thought for a single second that he was going to sit out a playoff game against his hometown Chicago Bulls, then you haven’t been paying attention for the past 10 years.
“Hopefully, one day when I walk away from this game,” Wade said, “I get the respect that my game deserves, whatever that may be.”
In Wade’s line of work, victory is the currency that pays for respect. And, right now, Wade is rich and Derrick Rose, another proud Chicagoan, well, he’s rich, too, but his team’s season is over.
Enduring distress, defeating adversity, cheating the odds, regaining balance after a hard fall: these are universal experiences that transcend a basketball court. In five games against the Bulls, Wade’s life played out like the character arc of a classic novel.
“It’s a Catch-22,” said LeBron James, most likely unaware that Yossarian definitely would have sat out against the Bulls to preserve his basketball career. “If [Wade] doesn’t play, you guys [media] are like, ‘Why is he not in uniform? It’s a playoff game, why is he not playing?’ If he does play, when he’s not scoring 20 points, it’s, ‘D-Wade shouldn’t be out there.’
“He’s a Hall of Famer. He has two rings. He doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone. No one.”
Oh, but Wade did have something to prove. Always has. Why do you think he wore that Marquette shirt earlier this week during an off-day practice at the University of Illinois at Chicago?
“My journey is, I’ve always had to … I didn’t even get recruited by UIC. Let’s just say that,” Wade said at the time when trying to compare himself and James. “We’re here today, and I didn’t even get recruited by UIC in Chicago. My journey was different, so I’m able to look at things a little different.”
Finding a way
Every hero has a crutch. Every champion knows defeat. Every character has a choice.
“You do one of two things,” Wade said after it was all over. “You either sit out and watch your team play, or you get out there and try to find a way to help your team. There are really no other options. This ain’t the regular season.
“You don’t have time to take 10 games off to try to get back. This is the time of the year when you try to do whatever you can.”
But Wade did have about 10 days off to try and get better.
He had more than a week between the first round and the second to rest, and the soreness did not improve at all. On the eve of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Wade knew the bone bruise in his right knee wasn’t getting any better — that was the bad news.
The good? It couldn’t get any worse.
“I’ve been doing this since the playoffs started,” Wade said before Game 5 when asked about playing through pain. “Some days are better than others. Other days, it’s like that candy bar, Almond Joy.
“Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t. That’s how I feel.”
For the record, Wade says nuts are the bad days. Ten points in Game 3, including just one shot attempt in the first half? Nuts. Six points in Game 4? Double nuts.
The pain got so bad during the series that Wade’s trainers began taping down his knee to stabilize the area. You guessed it … just plain nuts.
And disconcerting, of course.
So much so that when Wade ducked into the locker room early in the fourth quarter, everyone feared the worst. Turns out, Wade just wanted to refashion his jerry-rigged knee one more time and squeeze a little more drama out of the game’s big finish. Hey, even the toughest gladiator is a showman at heart.
Wade checked into the game with 8:27 left and the knee was feeling playful. This was not a day for nuts after all.
Wade went to the soft floater at first: Heat 86, Bulls 83. Next came that familiar Euro-step move: Heat 88, Bulls 84. A block of Jimmy Butler’s three-pointer preserved a five-point lead with 3:22 to play.
Then, 20 seconds later, was the hammer stroke — a put-back dunk off a missed jumper by Norris Cole to give the Heat a seven-point advantage.
“He’s incredible — the way he finished that game,” Chris Bosh said. “I know a lot of people were giving him that question mark. Even if he was going to play, they weren’t really sure what he’d bring.
“We always know what he’s capable of. He was really able to put his print on the game late. Without that spurt, we probably don’t win.”
And, now, the beast lurches forward. Already there are questions about the Eastern Conference finals. Will there be candy and nuts in the next round? Will the duct tape hold?
“I don’t know what it’s going to be from Day One to Day Two,” Wade said. “Only thing I can do is do what I’m doing. If it gets better, I think you guys will know, and if it doesn’t, I’ll continue to go out there and keep doing what I can.”