On January 6, 2010, the Boston Celtics played the Heat in Miami. With a little less than six seconds left in regulation, the score was tied 99–99, and the Celtics were inbounding the ball on their side of the court.
The ball was thrown to Ray Allen as he neared the Heat logo at half court after running free off of a screen. Allen, who knew Dwyane Wade was trailing behind, caught the ball, and then turned to dribble, angling his body to absorb the slight bump that he thought Wade was going to deliver when he arrived. Only Wade, who is a for-real basketball genius, knew that Allen was expecting that. So rather than bump Allen, Wade slid two feet to the left, leaving only empty air to support Allen’s leaning body. So of course Allen stumbled.
Wade reached in, pawed the ball away from an off-balance Allen, then flew down the court toward the Heat goal. He dunked it, putting the Heat up two with 0.6 seconds left, and basked as the crowd went bozo. Eric Reid, the Miami Heat announcer, had a great call on the play:
[AS THE PLAY IS BEGINNING]
“Five and a half seconds left in regulation…”
[AS THE BALL IS BEING INBOUNDED]
“… in to Allen … smothered by Wade…”
[AS WADE GATHERS POSSESSION OF THE BALL]
“He stole it!”
[AS WADE SPRINTS TOWARD THE RIM TO DUNK IT]
“Wade for the win!”
[AFTER WADE DUNKED IT, THEN CELEBRATED]
“Yes! He did it again! The steal! The score! Six-tenths left! Miami up two! Another miracle in Miami courtesy of Dwyane Wade!”
That last bit is my favorite part of the call: the “He did it again!” part and the “Another miracle in Miami courtesy of Dwyane Wade!” part. Dwyane Wade has a history of doing special things in big moments, and also a history of doing special things to transform ordinary moments into big moments. And yet, somehow, for some reason — maybe because he was in Miami, which isn’t a small market, but is kind of a small basketball market; or maybe because he’s never been as outwardly interesting as LeBron James, whom he entered the league with, or even as philosophically anti-interesting as Carmelo Anthony, whom he also entered the league with; or maybe it’s because his name is spelled weird; I don’t know — his brilliance has, for the entirety of his career, felt like it had been half of what he had deserved. I’m not saying that he’s not Basketball Famous, because he is obviously Basketball Famous. I’m arguing something more subtle: that we don’t recognize him enough for the virtuoso that he is.
Do you like stats? I’ll bet you like stats. I like stats. I talked to Mike Lynch from Basketball-Reference about some Dwyane Wade stats. Look:
- Dwyane Wade is one of only seven players in NBA history to amass 20,000-plus points, 5,000-plus assists, and 750-plus blocks. The other six: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and Larry Bird.
- Dwyane Wade has blocked more shots than any other player in NBA history who’s 6-foot-4 or shorter. He has 772 right now. In second place is Dennis Johnson, who had 675 in his career. Johnson played 14 seasons, which is the same number that Wade is at right now, except Dennis Johnson actually played more games in his career than Wade has (1,100 for Johnson, 874 for Wade). Jason Kidd is in third place on this list. His total: 450 blocks. Jason Kidd, who is the same height as Wade and also played in 500 more games than Wade, has more than 300 fewer blocks in his career. That shit is ridiculous.
- Dwyane Wade’s career PER is 24.6, 11th-best of all time. ELEVENTH.
- Dwyane Wade was one time picked for People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People list. (It ain’t important, but it’s important. I don’t know. Sometimes I forget how handsome he is. He’s really handsome.)
- Dwyane Wade is the only player in the NBA’s 70-year history who has ever managed to get at least 2,000 points, 500 assists, 100 steals, and 100 blocks in a season. He did it in 2009, posting 2,386 points, 589 assists, 173 steals, and 106 blocks that year. (Draymond Green got close last season, but I’m using the word “close” loosely here, because he was about 900 points short of 2,000.)
- If we take all the players in NBA history and look at their stats from the time between when they were 23 years old and 29 years old, he’s one of only 14 players to have a box plus-minus of 7.0. If that number doesn’t mean anything to you at all (it very likely doesn’t), just know that it puts him on a list with LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Kevin Garnett, Chris Paul, and Larry Bird, because I know those names mean something to you.
- With his Heat down 2–0 to the Mavericks in the 2006 Finals, Wade put up 42 points and 13 rebounds in Game 3, including a stretch over the final six and a half minutes in which he fucking exploded the universe, single-handedly bringing the Heat back from down 13 to win it. In a Game 4 win, he put up 36 points, six rebounds, and three assists. In Game 5, he put up 43 points, four rebounds, four assists, and three steals, hitting two free throws with the Heat down one with 1.9 seconds left to win the game. In Game 6, he put up a super GTFOH stat line (36 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals, three blocks) to close the series out. Look at those numbers again for what was not only the biggest four-game stretch in his life, but the biggest four-game stretch the Heat franchise had ever faced. He was very much on his Hercules shit. In 2011, ESPN’s John Hollinger rated Wade’s run that year statistically the greatest performance in Finals history. (IN FINALS HISTORY.) And Wade was just 24. (AND WADE WAS JUST 24.) Here’s the best line from the Hollinger analysis: “While it seems strange to have somebody besides Michael Jordan in the top spot, the truth is Jordan never dominated a Finals to this extent.” Now, I’m not saying Dwyane Wade is better than Michael Jordan, because that’s of course very not true. Nobody’s ever been a better basketball player than Michael Jordan. All I’m saying is … *picture me right here putting my glasses on* … 2006 *picture me right here tilting my head slightly, staring at you over the top of my glasses*.
Build Dwyane Wade his fucking statue.
- Three-time NBA champion (2006, 2012, 2013)
- Finals MVP (2006)
- NBA scoring champion (2009)
- Twelve-time All-Star
- All-Star Game MVP (2010)
- Three-time All-Defensive Team
- Eight-time All-NBA
- Picked by ESPN as the 27th-best NBA player of all time
- I would go on a date with him if he asked me to
- Eleventh all-time in NBA playoff scoring
You know what I think I like the most about Dwyane Wade? There are two things, actually, and neither of them has to do with any sort of numbers or calculable anythings.
The first: I like that Dwyane Wade, no matter the basketball scenario, no matter the stakes, has never appeared to be afraid. I have not one time in my life looked at him during a game and thought, “Yup, he is definitely shook right now.” You can go all the way back to his very first playoff game as a rookie in 2004: The Heat were playing the New Orleans Hornets and had given up a late-game lead and were looking at potentially going to overtime. Wade, though, wouldn’t let it happen. With 11 seconds left, he received an inbounds pass, allowed Baron Davis to approach him, hit Davis with a stepback crossover that sent him two days into the future, then charged into the lane and hit the game winner over 6-foot-11 Jamaal Magloire. It was great. It was such a neat moment.
After the game, Stan Van Gundy, then the coach of the Heat, spoke about the play call: “Dwyane was not the least bit afraid of that last play,” he said, and of course his shirt’s top couple buttons were undone and his tie was askew and his whole just general appearance made it look like he’d been rolled down a hill, because Stan Van Gundy always looks like he’s just been rolled down a hill. “In fact,” he continued, “I think he was extremely happy that the play got called for him.”
Again: That was literally his first playoff game. Also: Miami had gone four years without winning a playoff game. That’s a big thing, too. That should also be mentioned here, if we’re going to list the reasons why Wade should’ve choked in that moment.
Mostly, I enjoy rooting for NBA players who have feelings and fears they need to overcome. Those are the players I feel most connected to. But sometimes I like to watch players who, regardless of the stakes, will never short-arm a shot out of fear. Bird never looked afraid. Jordan never looked afraid. Kobe never looked afraid. Wade never looked afraid. He belongs in that category. That’s the first thing I like about Dwyane Wade.
The second: This is possibly less important than the first thing, but probably not. I like that Dwyane Wade absolutely understands that the theatrics of basketball is one of the things that makes it so entertaining to watch and be a fan of. I’ll give you my favorite example of Dwyane Wade doing this:
In November 2009, the Cleveland Cavaliers played the Heat in Miami. It wasn’t necessarily an important game, given that it was still the beginning of the season, but it was a BIG game, because (1) it was Powerful and Healthy LeBron vs. Powerful and Healthy Wade, (2) LeBron had just won his first MVP, (3) Wade had just won his first scoring title, and (4) Shaq, who had won a championship with Wade in 2006, had made his way to the Cavs, so if you wanted to, you could imagine there was a little bit of dislike sprinkled into the mix. So all of that was happening, and of course Wade knew that, as did everyone else, so that’s why it was a BIG game, which is why he put a fucking mega-stamp on it.
With four minutes left in the first quarter, LeBron drove around Udonis Haslem and tried to dunk it over Haslem and Jermaine O’Neal. It would’ve been a prime highlight. Jermaine, though, blocked just enough of the ball to deflect it away from the rim. Wade grabbed it, then took off down the court, LeBron chasing behind him. Wade made it all the way to the front of the rim before anybody decided to try to stop him. Anderson Varejão, the 6-foot-10 then-Cavs center, jumped as Wade jumped. The two collided and it was like a plane exploded in midair. Wade, six inches shorter than Varejão and also 50 pounds lighter, thunder-dunked an and-1 on him. There were fragments of Varejão’s skull all the way back to the third row. Blood, guts, chunks of flesh; it was all everywhere. It was horrifying.
Wade — and this is how you know he 100 percent, absolutely, certainly, for sure, definitely understood the magnitude of the moment — stopped his body’s motion, then pivoted THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION of where his momentum should’ve carried him just so he could step over the remaining pieces of Varejão’s corpse. He waited long enough so that the cameras could get a good shot of his face, then he shouted, “That’s how you do it! That’s how you fucking do it!” And he was right. That is exactly how you fucking do it. That is exactly how you take a moment and turn it into A MOMENT. That’s the second thing I like about Dwyane Wade: that he understands when and how to do that, and has proven himself capable of that*.
*His most recent example of this was at the beginning of this season when he hit the 3 to ice his first game in Chicago (his hometown) as a Chicago Bull.
That play that I described to start this piece — the one in which Wade stole the ball from Ray Allen and then dunked it to give the Heat a two-point lead with 0.6 seconds left — the Heat ended up losing that game. Rajon Rondo got loose for a bunny layup to tie things at the buzzer. In overtime, Wade scored five points, but the Heat combined for four misses and two turnovers. It seems appropriate, given that this entire article is about how Dwyane Wade is underappreciated, that I start it (and end it) with a play in which he did something amazing, only to have it undone.
Dwyane Wade has all of the pieces an NBA player needs to qualify for deification. He has the origin story (he had to sit out his first year at Marquette because of academic eligibility issues; he was overlooked on account of coming into the NBA with LeBron and Carmelo). He has the marquee playoff moment (the 2006 Finals). He has a bucket full of regular-season magic (the Anderson dunk is no. 1, but there was also the block-to-60-foot-heave to beat the buzzer, the steal-to-game-winning-running-3, the steal-to-alley-oop-to-Shaq in which he dribbled around Sasha Pavlovic, the LeBron alley-oop during which he posed after he threw it, etc.). He has the signature move that little kids can replicate (the stepback crossover). He was an admirable pedigree (his welcoming Shaq in on the Heat is one thing, his willingness to let the Heat become LeBron’s team while LeBron was there is another, and his revival in Chicago, where he has turned himself into an effective 3-point shooter because that’s what the team needed is the third). And he has the undeniable statistical accolades (see: the 2,200 words above this section). It’s all there. It’s time that we deify Dwyane Wade.