Finals MVP Dwyane Wade is the 54th recipient and fifth pro basketball player to win the prestigious Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award. Wade's remarkable run in the 2006 Playoffs and Finals separated him from all of the other great athletes of 2006.
By S.L. Price, Sports Illustrated
He hurled the ball high into the air, and it spun up and away and forgotten, the object that just moments before had been the most important thing in the building. Dwyane Wade began screaming. The clock ticked to zero, the horn sounded: But he knew already. He had known before anyone else in the arena that it was over, that his Miami Heat had come back yet again and won the 2006 NBA championship, that on this June night in Dallas he had, at 24, risen above his preordained peers to clutch the only prize that matters. The rest, though? He knew almost none of that.
Above Wade, above the American Airlines Center floor where the Mavericks and their shocked fans were edging toward the doors, the ball reached its peak, hovered an instant, started its fall. Already, the hierarchy of the basketball universe had been reshuffled, Wade's place in the game elevated and informed by long ago names and games. Time and again during these playoffs he pulled off heroics that echoed one basketball legend after another. Make room at the table, John Havlicek and Larry Bird: Wade stole New Jersey's final inbounds pass with nine tenths of a second left in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to send the Nets packing. Move over, Willis Reed: Wade did you one better, marching dramatically onto the court in the second half of a vital opening-round Game 5 against Chicago after suffering a hip contusion, then, four weeks later, checking out of a hospital after a night of vomiting caused by a sinus infection to carry the Heat in the series-sealing Game 6 of the conference finals against Detroit.
Yet, the most resounding echo of all, naturally, came at the end. It was Wade who led Miami, down 0-2 in the Finals and about to be buried, out of a 13-point hole with 6:15 to play in Game 3. It was Wade who wound up with 15 points in the fourth quarter, 42 overall, Wade who stole Dirk Nowitzki's inbounds pass with three tenths of a second left to put a boot to the Mavericks' throat. In the Heat sweep to follow, the Chicago-born, Jordan-worshipping Wade made it safe, for perhaps the first time since number 23 retired, to compare a guard with Michael and not risk embarrassment. At every pivotal point in Miami's oddly flawed playoff run, Wade had lifted his play to a personal high. But in those final four games -- with every Dallas player, coach and fan keying on him -- he punctuated a rise unlike any the league has seen, averaging 39.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals. No other player, in his first three NBA seasons, has scored more postseason points. No other player has come close.
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Wade Named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year
NBA Finals MVP’s Selection Marks Fifth Pro Basketball Honoree in 52-Year History of Award;
HBO’s Costas Now to Celebrate Selection Tuesday Night at 10 p.m. ET/PT
NEW YORK, Dec. 4, 2006 – Dwyane Wade, whose NBA Finals MVP performance led the Miami Heat to the franchise's first championship, has been chosen as the 2006 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year for symbolizing in character and performance the ideals of sportsmanship, it was announced by SI Group Editor Terry McDonell.
The Sportsman of the Year issue, which is dated December 11, will hit newsstands this Wednesday, December 6. SI.com/sportsman includes the tribute to Wade as well as exclusive video segments, galleries of past Sportsman covers and My Sportsman nominations from dozens of SI writers. Wade will receive the new Sportsman of the Year award, a sterling silver trophy crafted by Tiffany & Co., at a party in his honor in New York on Thursday night, December 14.
Tomorrow night, Tuesday, December 5, at 10 p.m. ET/PT, HBO's Costas Now will celebrate Wade's selection and profile the year's top performers and newsmakers.
"This award has always stood for more than the victory alone. It recognizes the manner of an athlete's striving and the quality of his or her efforts," said McDonell. "Dwyane embodies that winning spirit by playing for his team, not himself, and by working in the community to ensure young people have the chance to realize their own dreams."
SI senior writer S.L. Price profiles Wade in the magazine and chronicles both his difficult childhood and his disciplined rise to stardom. Price writes, "But here's the factor, more than any other, that may decide if Dwyane Wade can survive even success: he likes difficulty. Ease makes him anxious. Perfect makes him squirm. But set him up with an early childhood from hell? Put him in a two-game hole in the Finals? He dares you to doubt him."
In only his fourth season in the league, Wade has established himself as one of the sport's premier players and as the standard bearer for a new generation of NBA superstar. Elevating his game when the stakes are highest, Wade has scored more postseason points in his first three seasons than any other player in NBA history. His Finals MVP honor adds to a deep résumé of two All-Star Game appearances and a career-scoring average of 22.9 points per game. His credentials off the court are as impressive as the leadership he displays among his teammates. The Dwyane Wade Foundation, a nonprofit promoting social enrichment, education and physical fitness among youth, assists young people in reaching their educational and athletic goals through mentoring.
Wade is the fifth NBA player to be named Sportsman: Bill Russell (1968), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1985), Michael Jordan (1991) and Tim Duncan & David Robinson (2003). He is also the youngest player on the NBA/SI Sportsman list. (In addition, NBA player Rory Sparrow was named as one of eight Athletes Who Care in 1987.)
The last Miami-area recipient was former Dolphins' coach Don Shula (1993).