Turning on ESPN or talking with casual fans (or even die-hard fans) about the 2012 NBA Finals leads to one conclusion: this one is LeBron James’ title. It has cemented his legacy and achieved status as an all-time great. Now it is just about rank-ordering him, but at least we can have those conversations. ESPN has run its segments trying to figure out what it would take to have James be as “great” as Michael Jordan.
That is what sells and get viewers. That is something ESPN is often criticized for catering to.
But if we are going to talk about legacies, there is one guy everyone is forgetting. A two-time NBA champion who was just as vital to the Heat’s championship run in 2012 and an all-time great in his own right.
That would be Dwyane Wade, of course.
Wade put in an other-worldly NBA Finals for his first title in 2006, a performance that is getting forgotten in the midst of a lackluster decade of NBA Finals. Wade admitted in the run to his second title — both last year and this year — that he was perhaps a little too young to appreciate what he and the Heat had just accomplished. For whatever reason his 34.7 point-per-game performance in the Finals has not put Wade into the upper stratosphere of all-time playoff performances.
This championship was different for Wade. The 2006 title was about Wade’s ascendancy and the way he took over and dominated with the aging Shaquille O’Neal helping out. This title, Wade took a back seat and let LeBron have the other-worldly performance on his way to a second title. Wade did not have a great series as injuries slowed him down and he struggled throughout the middle of the postseason. In the Finals, at least, Wade averaged 22.6 points per game.
For the season, Wade averaged 22.1 points per game on 49.7 percent field goal shooting. Wade’s scoring average was the lowest since his rookie year. It was an odd year for Wade.
It has been an odd two years for Wade. Especially when you try to create a career storyline.
Wade went from Batman to Robin, so to speak, for his team’s betterment. The transition was not easy and was one of the mountain of problems the Heat had to figure out to go from good team with a shot at a title to a championship team. Wade was as much the center of those changes as James was, albeit without the spotlight.
That shift in spotlight put all the pressure to win on James since Wade already had his. What does that say for Wade? Wade needed this championship as much as James did. After all, he had O’Neal to win his first title and was perhaps a little too young to realize exactly what he was doing. This one, he got to celebrate and appreciate more because of where it came in his career.
Wade has been through a lot since the instant success he achieved in his career. Wade went to the conference finals by his second year and won a championship by his third. He was an all-NBA player and All Star much faster than many anticipated when he was taken fifth — remember the Lakers wanted him in the Shaquille O’Neal trade.
After those championship runs, as O’Neal quickly declined, Wade too struggled with injuries. His fall down seven, get up eight mentality and the lack of star power around him led to injury-filled, high-scoring years that left the memory of his 2006 performance in the rear-view mirror. Wade was the lone star on an also-ran team.
James’ arrival in Miami saved Wade’s legacy as much as Wade and the Heat saved James.
Wade might be remembered as a Scottie Pippen rather than a Michael Jordan, an Elgin Baylor rather than a Jerry West, but the second title showed Wade accepted that role. There is nothing wrong with that role. But his second championship changes how history may remember Wade.
His first title was his supreme dominance and potential. His second title was his selflessness rather than his mastery of the sport and his athleticism. Wade’s legacy is still yet to be determined. That is the beautiful thing about history. It is yet to be written.
Wade is one of the best players in the NBA right now. James’ star is overshadowing Wade at the moment and making everyone forget that… for now. Wade’s third title and how the rest of his career — particularly with James — will likely give us a read on how history will judge him.
Regardless, Wade is one of the special talents of this era of the NBA. His 25.2 points per game average and his ability to recklessly, yet gracefully, attack the basket and score is something that should not be overshadowed, even when playing with the consensus best player in the world.
That is the important thing not to forget in LeBron James’ coronation. Wade has a legacy of his own to write.