For Wade, Turnaround Took a Show of Strength
Friday, January 2, 2009
MIAMI -- When Dwyane Wade arrived at Tim Grover's Attack Athletics gymnasium in Chicago last May, he was ready to repair his left knee and reconstruct his career. Less than two years after winning the NBA Finals MVP in 2006, Wade's reckless, relentless playing style had left him banged up and down a notch among the league's elite perimeter players -- though not nearly as low as his Miami Heat had plummeted in the standings.
With some observers wondering if he had plateaued, grown complacent with his rapid rise to fame or was simply too injury prone, Wade told Grover, the famed workout guru best-known for training Michael Jordan: "I got to get back to what got me there."
Seeking merely to get healthy and return to the form that made him an NBA champion, Wade emerged from two months of arduous training perhaps better than ever. The redemption began last summer in Beijing, where Wade came off the bench and was the leading scorer on the gold medal-winning Olympic basketball team -- a team that featured friendly rivals LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. And it has carried over to the NBA's regular season, where Wade is now the league's leading scorer, averaging a career-best 28.7 points, and has helped the Heat move beyond a franchise-worst 15-67 campaign.
"Going through injuries, going through a 15-win season, it's no secret everybody had written me off, saying I was this, that and the third," Wade said. "I wanted to let everybody know that I do hear it. I'm going to do my job to shut everybody up. When the Olympics came, I think I hushed a lot of people up -- but I have to keep doing it."
Wade often says that he plays with controlled anger, and he has had plenty to fuel him.
"Last year was the point in my life where it hasn't been as rosy -- on and off the court," said Wade, who is separated from his wife and the mother of his two children, Siohvaughn. "As an adult, as someone who is going to live life and goes through some ups and downs, you know it's going to come. The only thing you can do is try to get through it, try to be who you are through it and eventually know that the storm will be over. It's going to change."
The Heat (17-13) already has surpassed last season's win total -- a testament to Wade's talents, considering that Miami is rebuilding on the fly with a rookie coach (Erik Spoelstra), a rookie point guard (Mario Chalmers) and limited depth and experience.
"Dwyane's been fantastic, particularly from a leadership standpoint," Spoelstra said. "Every single day, from training camp, he's led the way. He's shown the young guys this is important, this is how we do things with the Miami Heat, and here's what it means to be a professional. I think for the first time in his career, he realizes everybody is looking to him to be the leader. Not only by example, but to really tell people how to do it."
Wade isn't getting his points by just slashing and gliding to the rim. He developed a consistent midrange jumper last summer in hopes of prolonging his career. He also isn't focused on just scoring; he ranks among the top 10 in assists and steals and is averaging a career-high 1.5 blocks per game. "I've proven over the years that I can score a lot of points, sometimes at will," said Wade, 26. "Now it's about putting it all together and being a complete player. If I'm a complete player, it will make my team better.
"I felt in '06 in the Finals, that was the best I was at that point, but so far, for the regular season, I feel like, after six years in the league, this is the best I've been," Wade said. "I hope I can say the same thing at eight years in this league, nine years, and I just get better and better."
Heat President Pat Riley shut down Wade in March of last season, a few weeks after dealing away Shaquille O'Neal to expedite a rebuilding process. Riley determined that it wasn't worth Wade expending his energy when his body had never fully recovered from surgeries on his shoulder and knee in the summer of 2007. Riley told Wade to get healthy, so Wade got Grover.
Wade, a native of the Chicago suburb of Robbins, Ill., had been working out with Grover since before he entered the NBA. Grover designed a demanding rehabilitation program for Wade that focused on strengthening Wade's whole body, not just his surgically repaired left knee, and restoring Wade's explosiveness. Desperately wanting to participate in the Beijing Olympics, Wade was more than eager to cooperate. "He sort of went back to his first year in this league, when he had that chip on his shoulder," Wade's agent, Henry Thomas, said. "He had to prove himself all over again."