It’s not going to mean to him what it means to LeBron James.
It can’t. He didn’t go through the suffering year after year. He didn’t face the constant questions, the constant criticism. No matter what, Wade had cemented his legacy in his third season. He had a ring, and once you hit that level, you’re protected by shielding. That’s not to say Wade hasn’t taken criticism over the past two years. But the difference in what it means is significant. So no, this isn’t going to mean to Dwyane Wade what it means to LeBron James.
But in the aftermath of the Heat’s 121-106 win over the Thunder to win their first NBA Championship in the Triad era, we’re left with the revision to Wade’s legacy. Because two matters. And if you don’t think it does, talk to any member of the Boston Celtics, talk to anyone around the league. Multiple titles does put you on a different tier. One ring can be evaluated as a one-off, a sneak-in, it’s getting off the targeting of not having a title. But two? You’re legit. You’re someone you can build multiple titles around.
Wade’s path is different, and the Decision is always going to color that, but in a lot of ways, Wade’s second title was more difficult to accomplish than the first. Setting aside the level of difficulty the Heat faced in their opponents (and this should not take away from that ’06 Mavs team which was phenomenal), this was the first title where Wade had to figure out his role in a team, not the other way around. In 2006, everything was built around Wade. It was 15 Strong, but in reality, it was 14 complimenting one. And that’s a model for success. Putting a great player in a position to succeed has proven to be a path to the title.
But this was much more difficult. Wade had to figure out when to be the aggressor, the initiator, and when to move off-ball. He had to know when to operate as a decoy, and when to excel as a playmaker. He had to score, he had to play smart, and most of all, he had to defend.
These playoffs were far from the offensive brilliance of Dwyane Wade that we’re used to. He struggled with his shot, struggled with his touch, struggled with the toll on his body. But defensively, Wade was locked in. After a series of uncharacteristic whining episodes against the Pacers, he responded. It should not be understated that Wade had a fantastic series guarding James Harden. It’s spoken of as if Harden simply vanished, and like it was with LeBron James against the Mavericks in 2011, that wasn’t the case. It was a series of brilliant defensive adjustments and individual efforts that lead to Harden being limited, shut out, disappearing.
Wade may go down as the greatest shot-blocking guard ever, and this series was a showcase of that. His unique combination of elevation and timing for a superstar, especially given his overall output, makes him a gamechanger. If the Heat’s offense settled into a hierarchy of LeBron-Wade-Bosh-everyone else, the defense was a cloud of talent that played together. Wade was a huge part of that.
Let’s also not ignore the elephant in the room. We’ve seen superstars run coaches and other stars out of multiple teams. Wade could have balked at the role he was tasked with, he could have blown up Erik Spoelstra or had Bosh traded. He could have created a power struggle in defiance. He didn’t. He kept his head down, responded to bad games with good games, and made the little plays. He became the best complimentary player since Scottie Pippen.
Wade became a villain publicly more than ever these playoffs, which is a shame because of his contributions off the floor to charity and his overall maturity. But maybe that was necessary for the Heat to establish the identity they needed. He supported James at every moment, supported his coach, even after yelling at him in a game, supported the franchise.
Wade joins the fraternity of players with multiple titles, and when he retires, that will be the first thing we discuss about him. He gave us flashes, the one-handed runner, the finish after contact, the explosive transition plays. Wade has already made noise about how “father time” and how he can see it in the distance. We may have already seen the best years of Dwyane Wade’s career. But there’s every indicationto believe we haven’t seen the best of Dwyane Wade’s teams.
The star and the teammate. Dwyane Wade, 2-time NBA champion.