If you search through the catacombs of the Association, you would be hard pressed to locate a player with as much blinding agility, unabashed speed, and graceful power as Dwyane Wade. Struggling through injury, competition, and doubt, Wade has firmly secured his place among the elite basketball players in the league, rivaling the tremendous exploits of Kobe, LeBron, Duncan, Paul, and Carmelo.
Is it too early to make predictions for the next season? Probably, but I’ll make one anyway: Dwyane Wade will be the MVP of the 2009-10 season. This is more than forecasting the weather or picking a successor, this is selecting the next important and valuable player in the league. It is more than blind luck and recognizing patterns. To that point, Dwyane Wade is more than the atypical slashing shooting guard with a dumbfounding sense of the basket and irregular coordination while traversing the air. He is the definition of cool and plays each moment of the game with an unstated assurance and flashiness that is misleading of his talents and hurts his cause of being one of the best in the game.
His career trajectory plays like the opposite of his idol: Michael Jordan (pre-second comeback). He found early success with the help of Shaq, winning a championship over the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 Finals. Since then, he has struggled with injury and a declining talent pool in Miami, attempting to carry the heavy weight of a franchise on his shoulders.
Jordan struggled with success while a young scorer, continually battling the gods of the East, having to frequently clash with Bird’s Celtics and Isaiah’s Pistons. He was forced to post near 40 PPG in order for the Bulls to compete with the giants in the conference. Even still, they were nowhere near championship worthy. Wade has always been a prolific scorer whose relative ease with putting the ball in the basket has led him and the Heat to much success. He is constantly overshadowed by the other titans of the game (LeBron, Kobe) and is overlooked when discussions of the best in the game are aroused.
Michael only found success later in his career when he was teamed with able scorers and the right coach. Wade was almost immediately surrounded with Hall of Fame level talent and an all time great coach in Pat Riley. Since his early climb to the top of the mountain, Wade has experienced the early Jordan years for himself. He is experiencing Shaq withdrawal, the same syndrome that both Penny Hardaway and Kobe Bryant went through directly after the big man left both respective teams. All of the players saw individual spikes in stats while the teams suffered severe win droughts and struggled to maintain the playoff level of performance.
However, Wade’s situation is not equivalent to the other circumstances. He was always the man on the Heat who had the ball in critical situations. He was well established before Shaq landed in South Beach and was the primary scorer for Miami. Kobe and Penny needed Shaq to leave before they could prove their manliness to the rest of the Association. Wade was hampered more by injury than the absence of Shaq in these most recent seasons and the Heat have struggled to replace the presence of O’Neal as Dwyane has continued to perform terrifically.
Back to the MVP credentials, Wade deserved more attention for his performance this most recent season. He led the league in scoring and was named to the All-NBA defensive team over the much-heralded Kobe Bryant. This is not a blip on the radar for Dwyane either; he was already named to a defensive team back in 2005, well before LeBron realized that there were two components of the game. He basically fell off of the wagon in-between his two visits to defensive prominence, realizing his offensive potential and winning a championship. It took a few injury plagued seasons and heavy competition in the Olympics alongside Kobe, LeBron, Paul, and the rest of the gang in order for Wade to remember his knack for defensive interruption and overall incredible basketball skill set.
He has always been a tremendous athlete who was able to just beat nearly everyone on the court because of his athleticism, but that sort of play doesn’t immediately put a player into the upper echelon of basketball players. He has developed a streaky-to-deadly jumpshot that makes defenders stay honest and then be burned by his sweltering speed on his way to an impossible shot.
If you ever have the chance to watch Wade operate on the court you will notice some peculiar traits. His eyes display no emotion at nearly all times. They are lifeless and independent of his actions or the situation. They are not like a doll’s eyes, fruitless and somewhat disturbing as they follow you. They are like that of a great white shark: as frightening as they are misleading, the defenders knowing that he is not an empty vessel behind the eyes, but rather he is plotting his next move that will utterly vanquish his opponents.
Wade is never rattled by the deficit and he never displays lackadaisical playing with a lead. He knows from previous experience or confident enough in his abilities to know that a game is never over until the final buzzer sounds. He has led tremendous comebacks and has carried his team to victory with the determination of a hungry lion. His gritty performance against Dallas in the Finals a few seasons ago was perhaps the greatest in NBA history. Sure, he was aided by some undeserved or phantom foul calls, but that is more of a testament to his abilities and greatness than to the favoritism displayed by the referees. It is the same treatment that Jordan got and that Kobe and LeBron routinely receive for their performance and importance to the game.
Wade led the Association in scoring in this most recent season, an honor that both Kobe and LeBron held the year before their MVP winning season. Like both of his most chief rivals, his scoring was more necessity than gluttony. The Heat was in desperate need of scoring, with Michael Beasley attempting to contribute despite his attempt to look as non-caring as possible. Wade obliged and continued to score a healthy portion of Miami’s points and led the Heat to the playoffs despite a lack of any other legitimate help (don’t bring up the artist formerly known as Jermaine O’Neal, Jamario Moon, or Michael Beasley).
Like the early Jordan, Wade is forced to give every ounce of energy, sweat, and hustle in order for the Heat to realistically compete with the top contenders in the Association. Yet he does so without ever giving his competitors the satisfaction of knowing that he is working himself to exhaustion or becoming perturbed beyond belief at the lack of support he is getting. His flood of buckets is drowned by his absence of help from the rest of the team, leading to an average record despite need to see-to-believe great play by Wade.
Wade makes the entire game look so easy, so natural, so serene that it is easy to dismiss it or think less of it than the rim-rattling play of LeBron or Amar’e, or the standard of greatness attained by Kobe, or the hawk-like swiftness of Paul. But Wade uses each of these aspects and does so without blinking or second-guessing, which ails his attempts to notch a spot as one of the greats to play. Certainly a member of the top three players in the Association, Wade is in line to inherit the MVP award and lead the Heat to great things in the years to come.