Father Time eventually undercuts everyone in athletics, even the most supreme of superstars, but it doesn’t affect each at exactly the same rate.
It was just four years and seven months ago, for instance, that two guys born in 1982 were virtual peers, each starting for the East All-Star team. And it was Amar’e Stoudemire, not Dwyane Wade, who played more minutes and scored more points in that contest.
The time since has separated them, however, and while Wade may not be quite what he was then, no longer among the NBA cognoscenti's consensus elite, he still ranks several rungs above Stoudemire, a man 10 months his junior and now, for the first time, his teammate on the Heat.
So the expectations for each 33-year-old are markedly different this season , with Wade still responsible for serving as a franchise centerpiece, and Stoudemire simply seeking to prove he can still provide occasional, peripheral assistance.
In that sense, both succeeded in Thursday's 116-109 victory against the Kings, a win in which Chris Bosh (23 points, 11 rebounds) and Tyler Johnson (19 points on 6-of-8 shooting) also made meaningful contributions. Together, they were more than sufficient to overcome a Sacramento squad that remains winless without DeMarcus Cousins, who was suspended by the NBA for landing a forearm on Al Horford on Wednesday in Atlanta.
Start with Wade, as so much of the Heat’s glory has since 2003.
He had opened the season by scoring at least 20 points in each of the first five games, but had struggled some since, not topping a dozen in any of his four outings, while making only 32.7 percent of his field goal attempts. Then, at Thursday’s shootaround, his long-time coach Erik Spoelstra spotted him running circles around teammates.
Wade had liked his workouts lately. He’d just felt that, at times, he’d deferred too much.
“It’s got to be tonight,” Wade believed, of his breakout.
So it was, from the open.
“The biggest thing for me, starting off the game, my first four shots were right around the rim,” Wade said. “And I like those odds.”
He went 10 of 23 to get his 24 points, not his most efficient work, but part of an essential contribution for Miami, especially because he also mixed in five rebounds and six assists, including Heat-seeking darts that got Bosh and Hassan Whiteside easy baskets.
“Now, hopefully, you can get on a streak and put some good games together,” Wade said.
Stoudemire may not have that opportunity, not at this stage of his career, not in light of his place on this team. After signing a minimum contract with Miami, he had made only appearance, a forgettable, slow-footed 12-minute stint in Cleveland on Oct. 20.
I figured there would be times where the team would need me in different situations, so that’s why I worked as hard as I do to keep myself in shape, stay ready. For moments like that.
He hadn’t played in 20 days since. And he may not have played Thursday either, even with fellow reserve center Chris Andersen away to attend to a personal matter, if Whiteside hadn’t picked up two fouls in the first four minutes.
The second infraction threatened to disrupt not only Spoelstra’s precise rotations, but also the Heat’s flow. That was, until Stoudemire made a layup, a 13-foot fadeaway plus a free throw, a dunk and a 16-foot jumper, as the Hea’'s 6-2 deficit turned into a 25-21 lead by the end of the first quarter.
“That was so great,” Spoelstra gushed. “He’s like a point per second guy.”
Maybe not these days, though it sure seemed like once, when he was among the NBA's most unstoppable forces in the paint. Those days are long gone, after a litany of scourges, from knee problems to eye problems to back problems to knee problems and more knee problems.
But still, Thursday, he showed he may have something left.
“I figured there would be times where the team would need me in different situations, so that’s why I worked as hard as I do to keep myself in shape, stay ready,” Stoudemire said. “For moments like that.”
Eight moments in all.
That’s all he would get, none in the second half.
Eight moments that made all the work and waiting worth it.
This is more difficult, Stoudemire said, than being the star, as he once was in Phoenix, as he briefly was in New York.
“Being a franchise player, you just keep getting better at basketball,” he said. “Basketball is fun for you to play, you always want to play, you're a gym rat, you enjoy doing it. So that’s easy. When you’re in this position, you have to put on a coaching hat, you have to train even harder to stay in shape when you’re not playing. Because when you're playing, you get in shape that way.”
He said he’s tried, over the past four years, to humble himself: “My body pretty much allows me to accept this role and this challenge.”
His body worked well enough for his role Thursday. As did Wade’s.