In the post game locker room after a recent Heat loss, one could almost touch the silence. This game wasn’t Dwyane Wade typical. There was no boom. There was no excitement. There was no media throng. There was simply…silence. The man they call Flash was battle worn and slouched in the corner of his locker as if someone had snatched off his mask to reveal the secret identity that is human like the rest of us…you know the one that no longer wore NBA everyone thinks he’s a superhero clothing. Fans don’t see this side because it would be bad for NBA publicity. Who would want to see someone with a superstar mantra resembling a washed up comic book…ink melting and oozing slow but succinct down a fan dream gutter like sad you didn’t win the showcase showdown music?
On this night, no one pushed and fought for a spot to speak to the soul sonic mercurial guard whose name they thought was spelled wrong. No one wanted Dwyane to speak of his career best year. No one wanted to talk about the immaterial MVP race. No one wanted to talk to him about anything, so as I walked up unabated to get my own sense of Miami Phillyisms, Wade looked beat as ever…almost as if he’d worked a night shift triple.
This is where some writers learn to have an appreciation of the men most paint as physical super humans. They hypothetically dunk from the three point line, they underhand 90 footers on cue, they dive, they scratch, they fall, they rise, they climb through the air and trapped in time stare at the crowd ooohin’ and aaaahin’ horizon to silence…float…float…eyes focused and driven but catching a glimpse of the little kid wearing their uniform likeness and finally falling, rage smiling through the screams and hollers and pyrotechnic steam to bend thought once again as they boom the rim for another two point soul sphere orgasm.
But not tonight. There was no triple double. There was no scoring explosion. There was no win.
Dwyane Wade had just come off tossing in half a Wilt in a 52 minute, triple overtime performance and the MVP candidate–in this game–just didn’t have it. Proving once again, he is human. He bleeds sweat. He bleeds emotion and adrenaline and fan adulation and expectations and bogus referee calls that somehow affect the game in ways he does not like but professionally deals with…killing his energy as he leans on the aforementioned human shape shifting shadow which doesn’t permit his athletic embodiment to hate.
Yes, this is the road and the road sometimes offers the dryness of a bone clustered desert with no oasis in sight. No matter how superior professional talents appear, the road this time of year takes a physical toll which makes most athletes crumble way before the magic numbers begin to media flex. The precocious kid in the #3 Miami scarlet red would leave disappointed on this night. Flash scored a Wade pedestrian 18 points in 34 minutes and even Flash himself couldn’t speed up the bus fast enough…for the NBA’s just as super version wanted to finally secure a semblance of mental and physical relaxation the shower he just took couldn’t give. He needed a bed to shake off the Miami 140, Utah 129 in Utah lag.
Think of it this way. You’ve just laid down to sleep. Your husband or wife or child or pet startles you awake after just 5 minutes it seems, but in reality, you’ve slept all night. Tired as you may be, it’s your responsibility to get through the day no matter how much money you make for it can be no different…
“I just didn’t have it” was all he could muster when I asked about his showing, but before I continued on he offered: “It’s this time of the year man. It’s money time. We are making a playoff push. You fight all year to get to this point, so you gotta keep fighting. This is the time of the year where everything you work for all summer has to come deep down and you have to put it out there. You can’t stop. Too many people are counting on you. There are no excuses.”
I wondered to him aloud about this pseudo competition between he, Kobe and LeBron…if his personality fits this competition dynamic everyone wants to make it out to be.
Is this you? Is this who you want to be Flash?
“Everybody is somebody. LeBron and Kobe they have that world view recognition. Fans around the world view them a certain way. That’s fine. I just want to get respect for what I do…and how I do it.
I’m a guy whose 6’4″ and can do everything on the court. As long as I get respect for that then everything will fall into place.”
His averages since the break are astounding: 35 points and a shade under 10 assists. One has to remember he had no summertime chill. He gave that up for a chance for a USA Basketball gold medal reclamation point and before the red, white and blue took off from Beijing is where I saw a glimpse of what was about to become this season legendary. While interviewing Clyde Drexler as our images shot across the Jumbotron, Flash took off for a powerful black panther like hanging flush that made Glide almost out of character cuss. It was a moment of laughter we shared, but in my mind, I saw MVP. The real Flash was back it seemed after a frustratingly difficult 2008 season of oft-injured Barry Allen futility.
“To play this game at the highest level and to be one of those guys with a bulls eye on his back and then being injured? It’s tough. It’s one of the worse feelings in the world. I worked. I got mentally strong to get healthy again. I know when I’m healthy, I’m one of the best players in this game. I go out there every night and try to prove it.
Once I got healthy and got my confidence back…the Olympics helped out a lot…I felt everything coming together and it just made me better.”
Better he so is, for spirit stars find a way to get it done when the hot is hottest…
But it’s something he’s done before…
This is his season to show the world what is the shadow that walks silently behind him.
“I am one of those low-key kinda guys. I just wanna play basketball and get recognized for what I do and keep it straight for what I do.” He repeats: “I’m not asking to be a superstar across the world. Whatever happens happens. I play the game for the love and I just wanna be noticed for what I do. Once I got that, I can retire…hopefully with some more rings. When I retire I wanna be known as somebody who played his heart out every night.”
I find it NBA incredulous a player, who hasn’t yet hit his prime in historic terms, is now the unquestioned leader of a franchise. It seems a little off kilter members of his class now arguably run the league.
“We got guys on the team that are 19, 20, 21. You have to grow up fast. There is no time to wait. It’s a good challenge. It makes me rise to the occasion. We’re going through having first year guys and second year guys…then the trade (Jermaine O’Neal for Shawn Marion) and we are in the position we are in. To be the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference is a testament to all the hard work we’ve put in. Udonis and I are trying to lead by example as well as letting our voices be heard.”
With so many NBA players taking full advantage and going one and done, Flash as talented as he is, decided to stick around for three seasons. He was recruited by a mere three schools because of his grades. He sat on the bench and watched his freshman season until he was eligible. In my opinion, this is where he mentally began to go after that far off star reserved for the true talents of sport. It had to be hard for him, but Wade continued on until he got his shot. His highlight plays became normal. He became a player of fan basketball love when he turned in a triple double (29 points, 11 boards, 11 dimes–only the third ever) in a regional final victory against the Kentucky Wildcats that sent his Marquette squad to the Final Four.
He looks off…smiling…when I mentioned this special time of year:
“Always. Especially around this time in March when the tournament is in full swing. As a fan and as a person who played in those tournament games, you try to feel it again. Especially when you have teammates talking saying “Aw I did this…I got a triple double here…I led my team there.” It’s fun. It’s fun to think about. It’s exciting. This is a special time for fans all across the world, but especially for us. We played in the tournament in college. We know what this is all about. We see those kids working their tails off. You remember going through those moments.”
What about those who want to make everything negative despite life sculpting your everyday performance? Does it affect you?
“Mike it can. It can make you not do a lot of things man and not open yourself at all. Then people won’t like you as much. It kinda makes you want to be to yourself. It sucks! We have one life to live and we have to enjoy it and live our lives no matter what people are gonna do or say. Not a lot of people are granted the life we have. No matter what people say about me, I smile everyday ‘cause I’m blessed.”
The Scarlet Speedster of current NBA lore is not of the NBA limelight. You might think so because of his on court image, but if you compare his walk to that of Kobe, LeBron and even Carmelo, you will see something different. You will see a person more stuck in who he is off the court. Maybe it’s just who he is. He’s always had to work hard to earn stardom reserved for his more public peers. Maybe it’s Miami. Maybe it’s his sons Zaire and Zion and what he’s had to do to fight for their future respect beyond the NBA glare. Maybe it’s his quest for another title.
Regardless of the reason, let’s all enjoy his composed yet uniquely competitive run before his career sets in the Miami Heat sun.