By Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson
While Kobe Bryant played the last game of his career Wednesday night, dropping 60 points in a win over the Utah Jazz, ya gotta wonder: Aside from Tim Duncan, who is the living legend of the NBA?
Once upon a time, Wade was the fifth pick in the 2003 NBA Draft coming out of Marquette. The speedy rookie guard got the world’s attention in game one of the Heat’s first round playoff series against the New Orleans Hornets in 2004. With 1.3 seconds remaining and tied at 79 apiece, Wade hit Hornets point guard Baron Davis with an ankle breaker crossover and drove to the basket making a running jumper amid the outstretched arm of Hornets center Jamaal Magloire. The basket gave the Heat a 81-79 victory and Miami would end up winning the series in seven games.
“I knew he was a special player even back then,” said Rafer Alston, the And 1 streetball legend and retired NBA player who took the league by storm sporting classic kicks like the And 1 Tai Chi in the early 2000s. “Even though he was young and still developing even back then, he had that ‘it’ factor.”
Alston, was a member of that young 03-04 Heat team that also had Eddie Jones, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Udonis Haslem on their roster.
They’d end up losing in the next round to an uber-talented Indiana Pacers roster that included Reggie Miller, Jermaine O’Neal, Metta World Peace and Stephen Jackson. Broadcasters who called that series back then all marveled at how much talent that team possessed, yet lamented that had Miami possessed a solid center, they’d have been able to mesh well with the Pacers, as well as the team who’d end up winning the whole shebang that year: the Detroit Pistons.
“I think we did well that year even without a center,” said Alston. “We were a young team but we had big bodies that year with Udonis Haslem, Brian Grant and Malik Allen. We just couldn’t match up well with Indiana.”
The Heat would end up making a trade for the center they needed; swapping Odom to the Los Angeles Lakers for Shaquille O’Neal. Two years later, the super team Heat then-coached by Pat Riley and featured Shaq, Gary Payton, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, James Posey would hoist a championship trophy after beating the Dallas Mavericks.
“He kept plugging away and found a good mentor in Shaq,” said Alston of Wade. “From there he just followed the blueprint and never got comfortable.”
LeBron James and Chris Bosh would later arrive to South Beach and win two more rings with Wade.
Wade’s reckless abandonment and herky-jerky play on the court has had many question the guard’s longevity. With LeBron bolting Miami to return back to Cleveland and Bosh’s health not well the last two seasons, many have questioned the Heat’s ability to do well. But the 12-year vet and his team have benefitted after Miami acquired Goran Dragić last season via trade, as well as the team signing Amar’e Stoudemire and drafting Justise Winslow this past summer.
The emergence of Most Improved Player of the Year candidate Hassan Whiteside was a pleasant surprise. The coup de gras in South Beach was Miami signing Joe Johnson for the remainder of this season after his buyout with the Brooklyn Nets. The 48-34 Heat secured a third place finish in the Eastern Conference and they’ve earned it. Despite losing to subpar teams like the Nets, Magic and Lakers during the season, Miami has had solid wins against playoff contenders like the Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks. The Heat have gone 19-10 since the All Star break and what’s most impressive is how Wade–who has played in 72 games this season, (the most he’s played since 2009-10) has endured.
At 34, Wade put up 19 points, a shade under five rebounds and four assists a game this season for Miami. In the age of free agency, Kobe Bryant did it the old school way after playing 20 seasons for one team and winning five championships. He also placed third on the NBA’s all-time leading scoring list and won a multitude of other awards. In an era where “these teams and players ain’t loyal,” Wade is the shining light that parallels Bryant in terms of tenacity, leadership and sticking with one team despite peer pressure and temptation to play elsewhere. 11 seasons later, three championships in and a career 20,204 points, the fresh-faced kid drafted out of Marquette in 2003 that hit the nifty ankle breaker on Baron Davis and the runner for the win against the Hornets in 2004, will lace them up in the NBA Playoffs this weekend, against…you guessed it: the Hornets!
Who would have thunk it?
Brandon Robinson is a sports and entertainment writer and TV personality. You can catch him daily on CBS Radio Play.it’s Brown and Scoop Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @SCOOPB and visit www.ScoopB.com.