Dwyane Wade sat atop the basketball world in 2006, having won the Finals MVP in just his third NBA season. But the next two years were trying for the Heat’s franchise player. The veteran core around Wade deteriorated, including Shaquille O’Neal, who grew more disgruntled and disinterested. Wade suffered shoulder and knee injuries that significantly hampered his play, leaving the Heat to suffer an atrocious 15-67 season in 2007-08. His marriage to his high school sweetheart, Siohvaughn Funches, unraveled in the public eye.
Instead of building a Hall-of-Fame career, Wade appeared headed for a disappointing career marred by injuries. Everyone who warned Wade about his willingness to take hard fouls on drives to the rim seemed right. He was going to be the next Penny Hardaway (who was actually a teammate of Wade’s during that 2007-08 season). But in the 2008 Olympics, Wade was back — and better than ever.
On a team with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, Wade came off the bench — and led the team in scoring. The “Redeem Team” won the gold medal (And Wade may have planted the seed of the Big Three formation of him with James and Chris Bosh during this summer).
Back on the Heat, Wade won a scoring title during the 2008-09 season. Although he didn’t have enough help to get Miami back to championship contention — Miami picked Michael Beasley over Russell Westbrook with the No. 2 pick in the 2008 Draft — Wade re-established himself as one of the game’s best players. He gave Heat fans plenty of moments over the next two years.
Despite his best efforts, the Heat suffered first-round exits the two years Wade made the All-NBA First Team. Wade could win a playoff game against a superior opponent for the Heat — as he did when he scored 46 points in Game 4 of the 2010 first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics. He sank multiple 3-pointers in that game, even though he’s never been a good 3-point shooter.
But the Celtics won the series a couple days later, and Wade said that he wouldn’t go out in the first round for a while. Heading into free agency, did that mean Wade would sign with his hometown Chicago Bulls? It seemed that way after Wade met with the Bulls for a second time in July 2010. But just a few days later, the Heat shook the NBA world by signing Wade, James and Bosh.
The Heat turned into the NBA’s villains overnight. Pundits asked why James would join a peer in Wade, instead of trying to defeat him. (Thinking back to the discourse now, when Kevin Durant joined a 73-win team in 2016 and may soon join Kyrie Irving in New York just three years later, seems quaint.) Miami started the season 9-8 and lost five straight games in March, unable to close regular-season games. Many declared the Big Three experiment a failure.
But Miami seemed to silence the doubters, advancing to the NBA Finals with three five-game series wins — including big performances over the Celtics and top-seeded Chicago Bulls. And a Wade corner 3 in Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals put the Heat up 88-73 with 7:37 left. Up 1-0 in the series, Miami looked poised to take a controlling 2-0 lead. In a moment he may have come to regret, Wade posed for a few seconds in front of the Dallas bench. James celebrated with him as the Mavericks called a timeout.
Five years after Wade led a big fourth-quarter Finals comeback against the Dallas Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki returned the favor.
But even after that shocking loss, Wade dropped 29 points in Game 3 to give the Heat a 2-1 series lead. He was the best player on the court through those first three games.
It's going to be so awkward when Dwyane Wade wins the Finals MVP.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 6, 2011
The Heat lost the next three games. James took the brunt of the blame — people made jokes like, “If you give LeBron a dollar, he’ll only give you three quarters back” the entire summer. The NBA headed towards a lockout that threatened to cancel the next season. Would Wade and the Big Three have a chance to redeem themselves the following year?
Stay tuned for Part III of Dwyane Wade: An Unparalleled Legacy