He kept staring at the screen, weary eyes beginning to brighten before he handed the phone to Udonis Haslem. Then, after Dwyane Wade asked Haslem to share that phone with a reporter, the source of Wade’s soft smile revealed itself.
The inspiration was a message from his eldest son, Zaire, who turns 14 next week, a message Wade hadn’t seen until he scored 27 points in Miami’s 102-98 win against the Nets on Tuesday night. The message was roughly 175 words, typed in a single string and opening with an informal salutation (“Hey man”). Zaire, a rising hoops star, explained that he had been watching his father’s road games “to see if I can help you with anything.”
Zaire then offered his observations, that “the games you played good you got to the bucket,” that Monday’s 28-point performance to beat the Bulls was “your best game of the season,” and that when Wade went to the rim it got the “defense to suck in” and created opportunities for himself and his teammates.
“All I’m saying is stay on attack mode big dog,” Zaire continued. “When you attack they will play you with a lil extra room so that’s when u use that killa instinct and shoot your midrange. And stop being so hard on yourself, most important play for a passion. It seems [you’re] playing like someone is making you. No... go out there and play like it’s your last game of the season and give it all and trust your teammates.”
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The message provided a peek not only into a playful relationship between father and son, but into the need every performer has for reassurance, encouragement and instruction, even after more than a decade near the top of a profession. While Zaire Wade’s faith in his father shouldn’t surprise, what has been evident lately is it’s not necessary to share a surname to still believe in Dwyane Wade. To see Wade as the Heat’s “big dog.” To revel in his revival, as he has played in 43 of 46 games, averaging 18.7 points in just 30.2 minutes, and averaging 25.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 50.8 percent over the past three games.
Wade has endured plenty of criticism in recent years, about everything from health-related absences to an allegedly antiquated playing style. Back in 2014, I asked why so many analysts, notably Charles Barkley, were always beating him down, oddly eager for him to exit. He wasn’t sure, since he felt he had been good for the game. “I have noticed that,” Wade said. “And they’re quick to move me out of the way. But you know, it just makes the story better. Because I won’t let them move me. I won’t leave.”
He’s still here. So now we’re seeing many people recalibrate. We’re seeing plenty of people appreciate and celebrate.
On Friday in Toronto, Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan gushed about Wade, admitting he had stolen tricks like the shot fake, and saying “D-Wade is one of them guys I’ve had so much respect for.”
Tyronn Lue, the new Cleveland coach, used Wade as an example of “real sacrifice” during the Heat’s Big 3 era, an example he wants Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to follow.
Wade just received 941,466 votes, fifth among all players and second in the East to LeBron James, to earn an All-Star start.
Wade thought that was “pretty cool,” but the warm reception he’s getting everywhere is cooler. It happened again in Brooklyn on Tuesday, with many oohing and aahing his every move, then chanting “Let’s Go Heat” to usher him off the floor.
“Feels like ever since [LeBron] left, my fans went back to cheering for me wherever I go,” said Wade, laughing. “There hasn’t been one place that we went that I don’t see a jersey of mine or I don’t get fans’ support. It’s been phenomenal.”
He acknowledged that James’ presence on the Heat “grew our fan base” greatly, but “our fans have been strong, since we’ve built something here, in my 13 years.” His hold on them, due to their increasing grasp of his greatness, has never been stronger.
“The last couple of years I was missing games, so I came to a lot of cities and I wasn’t able to perform or play, or even play at my level,” Wade said.
“So one, I think a lot of people are happy that I’m in my uniform, and two, they’re happy I’m in my uniform playing the way that they want me to play. And to be able to go in my bags of tricks and do the things like that. They appreciate it. It’s like my fans are rejuvenated with me. Heat Nation is alive and well across the world, I’ll tell you that.”
All still betting on the big dog.