Before we, as Heat fans, came to once again experience the glory of winning a championship and being among the league’s select elite, we were forced to deal with a lingering mediocrity that left much to be desired.
Between 2008 and 2010, the Heat failed to make it past the first-round; losing to the Atlanta Hawks in seven games in 2009 and then to the Boston Celtics in five games in 2010. Speaking on behalf of the Heat fans who were following the team at the time, we weren’t disappointed because we knew that anything more than a first-round exit would be a positive.
While the team was just a little above average, what kept us really watching was Dwyane Wade. Surrounded by aging veterans and raw, young talent, Wade did everything he could for the franchise that had drafted him in 2003, gave him a Hall-of-Fame worthy teammate in 2004 and brought him a championship in 2006. Wade was pouring his heart out because he knew good things would come out of it.
Wade’s tenure with the Heat has been a riveting, once-in-a-lifetime experience for anybody who has lived in South Florida area and had the benefit of watching Dwyane on a nightly basis. Night in and night out, Wade was putting on a show; pushing his 6’4″ frame to the limit as he propelled himself over 7′ footers and weaved in and out of the league’s top defenses.
Scoring 46 points against Boston in Game 4 in 2010? It didn’t matter that the series was already over by then; that performance wasn’t just impressive, it was a testament to the effort and sacrifice Wade provides in a setting where his team is down 3-0 in the first-round and two more trips to Boston await if the Heat are fortunate.
There’s a reason why so many fans of this team are extremely reluctant to say LeBron James has taken over the Heat. They’re attached to Wade because they know what he’s done for this team through the good and bad times. Even after a 15-67 season where Wade dealt with injuries for a second consecutive season, his fans stood behind him and were part of the minority to believe that their All-Star would fully recover.
LeBron can win league and Finals MVP awards for the next five years and there would still be devout supporters of Dwyane being the leader of the team.
The title that he brought certainly created an impenetrable aura around him, but it was also for the sacrifice, especially in the two years before the ‘Big Three’s formation, his ability to lead the team and take and hit the big shots has given this franchise an identity like they never had before.
As incredible as Wade has been at every facet of the game with Miami, his ability to hit in ‘clutch’ situations has always been one of his greatest attributes. Born with ice in his veins, Dwyane has hit game winners and buzzer beaters alike throughout his career, which is a key reason why the Heat have only found themselves out of the playoffs on one occasion in Wade’s nine years with the team.
He’s hit many throughout his career, but there are a select few that have stood the test of the time and have been imprinted in the memories of any full-blooded supporter of Miami’s top team.
5. Dwyane Wade Keeps the New Jersey Nets Winless
You would expect a matchup with the hapless New Jersey Nets early in the regular season as meaningless. However, those implications change when the Nets are nearing a mark that would have them break the NBA record for most losses to start the season. The record stood at 17 losses, which coincidentally belonged to the Heat, but the Nets were testing the mark at 0-9 heading into Miami.
A win should have been a sure thing for the Heat; the Nets sported a starting lineup of Rafer Alston, Trenton Hassell, Terrence Williams, Josh Boone and Brook Lopez. While Miami received 28 points and 12 rebounds from Udonis Haslem, they saw Michael Beasley miss 14 of his 17 shots and Dwyane Wade fail to convert a field-goal in the entire second half.
Almost the entire second half to be exact. After a missed goaltending call on the other end that gave the Nets an 80-78 lead with 4.1 seconds remaining, the Heat decided to go all out and allow Wade to hit the game winner from three, despite having missed all four of his shots from beyond the arc up to that point.
Wade took a few dribbles on the inbound, fumbled the ball, heaved a desperation three over Hassell and watched as it dropped in with .1 seconds remaining.
The Nets would go on to lose 18 straight to break the Heat’s record.
4. Dwyane Wade Goes Old-School for the Win against Indiana
LeBron James completed the heroics of pulling the Heat into overtime with a corner three-pointer in a late-season game against the Indiana Pacers.
It had been awhile since Dwyane had hit a game winner, and he found himself with the opportunity following a LeBron James miss that led to an offensive rebound. Upon the rebound, James made a gesture to Dwyane signing him to come over, take the ball and finish off the game as he done so many times before.
Wade allowed 20 seconds to dwindle, walked into within 23 feet, pump faked and absorbed contact from the 6’10” defender in Paul George. No whistle was made, yet Wade still found a way to will the shot in to give the Heat a two-point lead with .1 seconds remaining.
The timekeeper at the American Airlines Arena has an itchy trigger finger.
3. Dwyane Wade Leaves his Mark at the Mecca
LeBron James may have had 52 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds at Madison Square Garden and Kobe Bryant may have dropped 61 points earlier in the week, but neither player can say what Dwyane Wade has accomplished in what many call the ‘Mecca of basketball’.
Taking place in the 2004-’05 season, Wade was in his first season in the national spotlight thanks to Shaquille O’Neal taking his talets to South Beach. With all eyes on the Heat, mostly starting off with the O’Neal vs. Kobe feud, the spotlight eventually fell significantly more upon Wade as the NBA community began to notice what type of talent Miami had on their hands.
Wade left his mark on the NBA with a huge showing in New York. With the teams tied at 96, Dwyane decided to take the game into his own hands. Running into within the three-point line and flashing that patented step-back jumper, Wade threw up a shot over Trevor Ariza and began running down court before seeing it hit nothing but net.
Dwyane would score a career-high 55 points against the Knicks five years later.
2. Dwyane Wade Floats in his first Game Winner
Dwyane knew that he wasn’t getting nearly as much attention as the likes of fellow rookies LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. James was a high-school recruit that had been known for years, while Anthony was a standout from Syracuse University who had just won an NCAA championship. Wade was seen more as the humble kid from the humble school in Wisconsin.
Come end of the 2003-’04 season, however, and Wade is the only one of those three in the postseason. With the opportunity presented in front of him, Wade took full advantage as early as he could. In a 79-79 game in Game 1 of the first-round against New Orleans, coach Stan Van Gundy decided to leave the game in the hands of his rookie.
Wade used a sick crossover–against a proven star in Baron Davis no less–and found himself in the lane. He gave Davis one last bump, took a shot over the outstretched hands of All-Star center Jamaal Magloire and watched as the shot fell in to give the Heat an 81-79 lead, and the eventual win.
It was necessary: the Heat would win the series in seven games.
1. Dwyane Wade is Good
Over a nine-year career, Dwyane Wade has done some things that’s caused reason to believe he was just as good as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant during his two best seasons with the Heat in 2009 and ’10.
When it came down to it, however, Wade just never received the attention those two received. He wasn’t on national television every other night like Cleveland or the Lakers and he was on a team that couldn’t even crack 50 wins, unlike the Cavs and Lakers who were legitimate title contenders.
Dwyane didn’t allow the media to create his legacy; he made it himself. Through good and bad times, Dwyane was still pouring his heart out day and night, even when the media turned their back on him following the slew of injuries he dealt with after the 2006 Finals.
It’s what makes this game winner against Chicago so special. Despite it being one of the best game winners we’ve seen in the past decade, it’s only recorded 412,000 views since March 2009. Even today, you hardly ever hear it mentioned amongst NBA circles that discuss some of the best game winners they’ve seen.
Wade never received respect prior to James and Bosh joining the team, but he earned it for one night after stripping John Salmons on one end and then racing to the other end to hit a running game winner at the buzzer.