It was always the question that ultimately needed to be answered in Miami — whose team is the Heat? LeBron James or Dwyane Wade?
They tried sharing the load evenly and that got them within two wins of an NBA title. But you could feel the limitations of that style when LeBron went into a fog in the finals. The question loomed. It was not something Pat Riley or Erik Spoelstra could answer for them.
But as this season has worn on it was clear Wade had given the reins to LeBron. Wade still averaged 22 points a game, he still had his moments, he would still close some games, but this became LeBron’s team. He had an MVP season. That includes in the fourth quarter, when LeBron had the second highest PER in the league.
Wade did this as a conscious decision, Wade told Israel Gutierrez in a fantastic story at ESPN (you should read the entire thing).
“It was probably one of the hardest things I had to do in sports was to, in a sense, take a step back,” Wade said. “A lot of people don’t understand. They’ll say, ‘Why would you do that?’ To me, I want more success from winning. I don’t want another scoring title. I’m just trying to win.
“I felt that it had to come from nobody but me, to say, ‘Go ahead, man. You’re the best player in the world. We’ll follow your lead.’ Once I said that, I thought he kind of exhaled a little bit.”
Wade said this really came to him in January when, sidelined by injury, he watched LeBron step forward with monster numbers. Wade said he realized he had to make LeBron feel comfortable.
“I just had some time to sit back and think a lot,” Wade said. “I just realized what we’re playing for, and what I’m playing for.
“LeBron is probably the most talented player we’ve seen in a while, but how good can we be? Are we going to be good if me and him are both scoring 27 a night? Yeah, we’re gonna be good, but it would be too much, ‘OK, it’s your turn, now it’s your turn.’
“I wanted to give him the opportunity where he didn’t have to think about that. It’s kind of like I told him, ‘Listen, I’ll find my way. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be there. But you go out and be the player that we want you to be.'”
The result was a strong regular season. Of course the real test — the only test that will matter in many people’s minds — is still ahead of them. Unless they return to the finals and get two more wins this time, the same questions, taunts and everything else will come back with a vengeance.
But Wade seems very comfortable with his decision. That alone has changed the dynamic on this team. We will see in the next month how much.