Dwyane Wade has entered the third act of his career. Third stage, if you consider the rocket-like way Wade wants to assault the basket and the trajectory of an athlete’s career.
You would like to know which nights the Heat superstar will play, right? So would he. Wade wants to play all 80 of 82 (able to take the last two games off because the Heat has clinched the best record). He knows that’s not best for his knees.
Wade’s not at the end of his career, but he knows a full schedule of high-flying assaults on the basket doesn’t work for peak June efficiency anymore.
There’s no set schedule for what does work. So, each day Wade finds out from his 31-year-old body if it’s close enough to 100 percent healthy to allow him to play or practice. “Close enough” because he knows he will never be that healthy again.
“It sucks,” Wade said of that knowledge.
“You want to be able to be like the young guys in the league, but you’re not that young guy in the league,” he said. “You have to still understand you’re good enough to be effective as you can be, whatever your game is. It’s about growing and being smart and understanding that your body is different than your body at 23. I laugh now, I see the young guys, the Paul Georges and all those guys and think, ‘Man, those were the great days, the good old days when you felt that way.’”
“When you get about 28, you start reaching that other side,” Wade said. He laughed, “Then, about 30, there’s another side.”
That’s the side where the sailing two-handed dunk off the break the other night in Indiana becomes Krispy Kreme donuts after school, a special indulgence.
“As you get older, you’ve got to save it,” Wade said. “Every now and then, I’ll show y’all I can still jump a bit.”
He smiled at a media member. “It was all right, right? I think I surprised everybody. Early in the game I missed two that I should’ve dunked. So when I got my opportunity the third time, I decided to dunk it.”
Nobody asks Heat guard Ray Allen to dunk. He’s a shooter. Shooters live longer in the NBA. Their use of legs and wear on the knees compares with the slashers and penetrators the way a Honda Civics engine and tire wear compares to a Shelby Mustang’s.
“I look at a guy like Ray Allen, who is in amazing shape,” Wade said. “But a guy who’s never had knee problems. That’s why he’s able to play 18 years. That’s a blessing. But everyone doesn’t have that same kind of luck.”
Each day’s different for Wade.
“Sometimes, you wake up with so much pain but you continue to do your work, your rehab, your therapy and you’re like, ‘I’m not as limited today,’” he said. “You just never know when that time will be.”
He won’t approach the rear end of back-to-backs with negative absolutism, even if the opponent might be a chesty, physical bunch such as Indiana. He will just tell Heat coach Erik Spoelstra how he feels after the first of the two games.
In fact, Wade said he has told Spoelstra that it will have to be Spoelstra’s decision to scratch Wade. Wade won’t volunteer, although he’s realistic enough to say that playing some nights is “not the smartest thing to do” and could hurt the Heat as much as help.
“[He and the Heat trainers] talk about how I’m feeling, and we kind of go from there,” Wade said. “Sometimes, coach has made the decision late before a game. Sometimes, I’ve told him at shootaround when I haven’t played. It’s really no perfect way to feel it out. We don’t have a schedule downstairs. We’re just kind of feeling things out. Obviously, we have a team that has the ability to plug guys in and be successful, so that makes things easier.”
Admitting such shifting lineups could keep team chemistry from developing as easily as the Heat would like, he said, “We in here understand — we’ve been to the Finals three years in a row — we understand what the big picture is about.”
Another title. Another ring. Another celebration with the team and the city. Another high moment as his body tells him there’s less high and fewer moments left in it.
Wade chuckled at the media, “The Wade Watch … keep watching, I guess.”