Nobody knows exactly when the narrative of Dwyane Wade’s persona reversed its direction, and one can only guess why he transformed from a commercialized dimple to the oversensitive guy who lost his cool during the NBA lockout in the face of David Stern’s finger. What is the explanation for someone to change so drastically, and, on a more important level, why is it nobody seems to care?
At just 24 years old, Wade was the toast of professional basketball. He’d just been named MVP of the NBA Finals (a series in which he averaged 34.7 points per game and walked away with a 33.8 PER, making it the greatest performance in NBA Finals history), had the league’s number one selling jersey, and was only a few months away from being named Sports Illustrated’s 2006 Man of the Year. The accompanying article revealed an adolescent life filled with unimaginable adversity—Wade was raised by his sister, hardly shaped by a mother addicted to drugs and alcohol—that had a real-life happy ending. He’d overcome it all, marrying his high school sweetheart along the way, donating 10 percent of his then $3 million salary to a Chicago church he regularly attended.
He embraced his status reluctantly, at first, telling Time Magazine he found it “weird” and “crazy” whenever he saw people wearing his shoes or jersey.
Today, things are different. He’s still an elite player with moves so slick that imitating them in your backyard would leave you physically injured, but Wade is no longer an angel. For one reason or another, gone is the high-school sweetheart (replaced by a heavenly movie star), the carefully sculpted self-awareness and humble outlook.
In those first few years he was buoyant, free, and fearless. He looked so happy, like everything in his life was work except basketball.
Today his smiles are few and far between. Apart from the visible outrage Wade shows when a referee chooses not to award him with free throws, he’s virtually emotionless on the court—steely and scowling. When he powers through a foul to make some acrobatic shot, Wade struts around half the court’s perimeter with a loose jaw and a vacant stare. Sometimes he shoots the closest referee the same look a movie star gives a grip who keeps letting the mic drift into the shot.
This is Wade today. He’s almost as well known for his petulance as for his ability to do things nobody else can on both ends of the court.
Still, he remains the Teflon Don of Miami. When he submitted perhaps the worst performance of his career in Game 3 against Indiana, the media scrambled to find a possible injury. (Contrast this with the evisceration LeBron James took after losing to the Celtics in 2010…the speculation went from phantom elbow injury to some rumor involving Delonte West.) In the three seasons following his career-defining Finals performance against the Mavericks, Wade won four playoff games and zero series. This is rarely mentioned. Why?
In Round 2 he intentionally plowed into Darren Collison and was given a Flagrant-1 foul (for an identical action earlier this season, the league suspended Hornets center Jason Smith for two games), he broke Kobe Bryant’s nose and gave him a concussion during an All-Star game, and in last year’s series against Boston, he ran full speed, shoulder first into Paul Pierce’s chest (a play which led to Pierce’s ejection) and was the instigator in a sequence that saw Rajon Rondo suffer a gruesome arm injury.
As a superstar whose every word is placed under a microscope, Wade seems to slip more often than is tolerated for other great players. On top of his rare on-court blemishes, Wade’s deteriorating social/self-awareness should be pointed out. Here are a few examples:
- During last year’s Finals, Wade, then 29-years-old, thought it a good idea to mock an opposing superstar with fake coughs while cameras caught it all, then proceeded to play dumb as to why this should be a big deal.
- Citing opportunity cost, Wade expressed his belief that NBA players should see financial compensation for playing in the Olympics. After receiving public backlash, he recanted the following day on Twitter.
- Last week, after Game 2′s post game press conference, Wade had this to say: “I heard [Indiana] wanted to be like the Dallas Mavericks. I saw their celebration after the game.” A statement lacking all consciousness of his own past actions.
- Before playing a single game with James and Chris Bosh as teammates, here’s Wade on what the reaction could be if his team went on a losing streak: “It’s going to seem like the world is crashed down. You all are going to make it seem like the World Trade has just went down again. But it’s not going to be nothing but a couple basketball games lost and we’ll have to get back on track.” He tries to put down the media’s fish bowl antics, but falls flat on his face.
I’ve never met Dwyane Wade, and I don’t think he’s a “bad” person. However, I would say the way he’s escaped reasonable criticism is a bit maddening.
Wade’s championship ring and LeBron James’s unquestioned place as the arch-villain to NBA fans act as a steadfast buffer between him and the likes of Carmelo Anthony or Tracy McGrady. But the attention comes with teaming up with James is starting to cause some to sour on Wade’s vibe.
In his third season he was deemed the best player alive; in his fourth, he was swept from the first round. In his eighth, that magical Finals performance still compels us to forgive and forget public relation sins that would make ready talking points for other stars. Early, unprecedented success has given him a free pass, but how long until it runs out, if ever?