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Steve Aschburner

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Dwyane Wade may have a lot on his mind these days, but you'd never know it from his performance.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images

Distractions not keeping Wade from carrying Heat


Posted Apr 5 2010 7:59AM

Even in his most tranquil moments, Dwyane Wade has enough going on in his life to seem, from the outside, like a juggler with three or maybe even four balls in the air at once.

Lately? Add an anvil, a snarling wolverine and a flaming blowtorch to the list of things the Miami Heat superstar is trying to keep aloft. Don't look now, either, but someone just yanked the starter cord on a chainsaw and is tossing that into the mix. Now that's entertainment.

Actually, it is chaos, through which Wade is trying to navigate while playing franchise-guy basketball and leading Miami into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The man is a superior athlete, a perennial all-NBA pick and a world-class competitor, but his life right now could scarcely be more hectic. Or complicated. Or distracting.

"My mother's a pastor," Wade told me late Saturday, after scoring 39 points to ignite Miami's eighth consecutive victory, a 97-84 outcome over Minnesota. "My mother always says, `God don't put more on you than you can bear.' So everything that I'm given, I must be able to handle because He gave it to me. I'm learning how to juggle. I take anything I'm doing and I focus on that, and I move on to the next thing when it's time."

That's the problem: Wade's next things stretch out like Airbuses stacked up at LaGuardia, each one trickier and pricklier than the previous. Beyond his Heat responsibilities -- carrying a team on his back into the postseason and trying to satisfy a fan base for whom 2006 feels like a long time ago -- he has a ton of off-court and personal issues to address.

There is his impending free agency and the speculation that, more than LeBron James at least, Wade is likely to be switching teams in this great Summer of 2010. There is his roster spot and commitment to USA Basketball for the World Championship games in Turkey. And then there is the 800-pound gorilla lurking throughout, an acrimonious divorce case from and child custody battle with wife Siohvaughn that is scheduled to go to trial in Chicago June 7. This isn't a matter of divvying up assets and weighing the merits of any possible pre-nup; this has gone full metal ugly, a tawdry and public he-hissed/she-sneered domestic engagement that has reached Hollywood mudfight proportions. NBA? More like TMZ.

"It's not anything I'm not used to," Wade told reporters the other night. "I have been dealing with it for the last two years."

What once was bliss at some point turned brutal, and we'll let the judges and the attorneys earn their paydays by sorting it all out and, presumably, putting the interests of Zaire, 8, and Zion, 2, first. What matters here, in basketball terms, is that Wade will be trying to do his job while having his private life laid out and poked at like the salmon on a brunch line. Each day until the Heat are done this spring, Wade will show up to work determined to stay focused, play well and get results. Some nights he'll actually do all that.

Or should that be most nights?

"I've never seen him distracted," Miami forward Udonis Haslem said. "He's always stayed professional and kept his business separate from basketball. Some guys get those things mixed up and forget how they got to where they got. But he's always done a great job, regardless of what's going on off the court."

Said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: "Dwyane's been great over the years at compartmentalizing things in his life. He's always used the game and the team and the whole organization as a sanctuary for him to just concentrate on basketball. That is a gift that he has."

In a span of about 27 hours Friday and Saturday, Wade flexed that gift twice. First he scored 43 points at Indiana, then backed that up with 39 in Minneapolis, taking over both games when the Heat needed that. Not a bad start to April, on the heels of being named Player of the Month in the East for March. Sandwiched in there at the end of the week were dueling news accounts, the first on Wade's petition seeking sole custody, followed by Siohvaughn's response (the couple has been separated since August 2007).

"It has to effect you a little bit as a player and enter into your mental [state]," Timberwolves forward Ryan Gomes said prior to Saturday's game, before Wade's play argued otherwise. "Even though this is our job and this is what we love to do, it's kind of hard to just put it aside when you have things going on with your family or your relationships. You say, 'Go ahead and just focus on your work.' But I think it does take a toll. Just sitting here, you can be thinking about the game but your mind always veers off into different subjects, especially if it's something negative going on."

It needn't be a divorce. It could be a sick child, a rotten investment, a sibling gone astray or a spouse gone shopping. Any of those could get in the way of concentration and an honest day's work, same for an NBA superstar as for the guy in the next cubicle.

And then someone mentions the name "Kobe."

Right, Kobe. From the summer of 2003 until September 2004, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant went through the most steamy, distracted season of any NBA player in recent memory, facing sexual assault charges in Colorado that eventually were dismissed before trial. The Lakers' run of three consecutive championships ended that year, but then no team has won four straight since Bill Russell's days. Bryant's individual production dropped -- from 30.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg and 5.9 apg in 2002-03 to 24.0, 5.5 and 5.1 -- but only to numbers that would have been stellar for most anyone else.

"Some guys like Kobe come to the arena, put whatever's going on in their lives in a little bag and leave it there while they go out on the floor and do what they do," one longtime NBA coach told me. "When the game is over, they go back and deal with it.

"Other guys, their blue shirt could be at the cleaners and they can't think of anything else until they get it back. It bothers them night and day. So it really comes down to the player and his personality."

For some, the gym becomes a haven, a retreat from whatever it is that's afflicting or upsetting them. Everyone is different, but it sounds as if Wade -- revving up for 18 points in the third quarter Friday, 13 in both the second and the fourth on Saturday -- is closer to that guy.

"I've dealt with a lot of things in my life, from my childhood on, and I never let it affect me," Wade said Saturday. "I've just always been strong enough to be able to put aside anything that's going on outside of what I'm doing. Do I have things going on in my personal life? Everybody does. And nobody's going to feel sorry for you. You've got to come to work and do your job."

He makes it seem simpler than maybe it is.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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