A Sneaking Success
Wade far surpassed the expectations
Nov. 3 -- Dwyane Wade looked like the lonely kid at the school dance, sitting in the corner by himself.
He could only watch as a room full of reporters fought like piranhas to get to the other dozen or so other lottery candidates present at the 2003 NBA Draft Media Availability Session the day before they'd hear David Stern call their names. The empty chairs surrounding Wade's interview table spoke volumes about the perception observers had of his NBA destiny, one that has already brought him a spot on the All-NBA Second Team as well as appearances on the cover of NBA Live 06, at the MTV Music Awards and in Sean Jean clothing advertisements.
The fact that his accomplishments go beyond just the basketball court make it even more ironic Wade wasn't considered an interesting story. But without the 6-6 frame made en vogue by the league's top shooting guards at the time, the media and even some NBA personnel officials couldn't help but write Wade off as a player who didn't fit the star mold.
"You have to question that 6-4 size Marquette listed him at," an Eastern Conference scout said before the Draft. "Schools lie about a player's size all the time. Without shoes, it would surprise me if he is even 6-3."
Wade's lack of height only compounded the existing concerns about his game. During his final season at Marquette, he converted a pedestrian 14 three-pointers at a .318 rate, thus enhancing his reputation as atypical from the traditional NBA shooting guard. Wade's strength was slashing, but that required him to have the ball in his hands, and because he had never assumed point guard duties at Marquette, there was no precedent to support the belief that he could be a playmaker at the next level.
Dubbed a man without a position, Wade earned the dreaded "tweener" label that NCAA All-Americans-turned-NBA busts of the past have given rise to.
Lost in all of the nitpicking was everything Wade could do. Like lead Marquette almost single-handily to its first Final Four berth in 26 years. Or earn Conference USA Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors and a spot on the AP First Team All-America team.
Those things weren't lost on Pat Riley, however. The Heat team president coached Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy during the Lakers dynasty days of the 80's and had intimidate knowledge of the subtle ways a champion reveals himself through the manner he thinks, walks and breathes. He called Wade "one of the most mature guys that I have ever met" and "one of the best players in the draft, if not the best."
Miami would use the No. 5 overall selection on Wade come Draft night, a move that stunned the same press that previously shunned him. One prominent draft expert summed up the reaction best by calling the pick "the first big shocker."
But the bigger shocker was how Wade would perform during his rookie campaign.
Playing through an array of injuries and a demanding job description that included stints at both the point and his more familiar shooting guard spot, Wade averaged 16.2 points and 4.5 assists per game for the season, catching fire after the All-Star break and helping the Heat win 17 of its last 21 games.
On Feb. 23, Wade became the first rookie in franchise history to win Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. He averaged 27.0 points to go along with 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game over three games, leading Miami to an undefeated record.
"The fact that he developed so quickly in his confidence level and maturity, it sort of blew my mind," Riley said at the end of the season. "I've never had a player I've drafted that was as good as Dwyane is, other than when Earvin (Magic Johnson) came in the first year."
That development continued into his second year in the league, when such dominating statistical performances became commonplace for Wade.
Averaging a phenomenal 24.1 points, 6.8 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 1.57 steals and 1.06 blocks for the season, Wade teamed with newcomer Shaquille O'Neal to help Miami achieve an Eastern Conference-best 59 wins last season. His 7.9 point per game scoring jump represented the largest increase by a player who averaged at least 10 points the previous season.
For his efforts, Wade was voted to the All-NBA Second Team, NBA All-Defensive Second Team and Eastern Conference All-Star team.
And, although Miami fell to Detroit in the Conference Finals, a newly bolstered Heat roster has many predicting that this season will be the one the Larry O'Brien Trophy comes to Miami and the MVP Award to Wade's home.
Nowadays, as a bonafide superstar, media darling and much-beloved fan favorite, if Wade's ever alone, it's only because he's in a class by himself.