Never has a team been so engineered for dominance as this year’s Miami Heat. Chris Bosh left Toronto for a ring, joined by that guy from Cleveland. But this is the man they came to play with, and who’ll show them how it’s done.
It is media day for the Miami Heat, the team at the center of the NBA universe. Soon every day will be Media Day for the Heat; never will an NBA season, which has long been an eighty-two-game warm-up for the NBA playoffs, feel so long. This summer, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors, both free agents, decided to join forces with the Heat’s Dwyane Wade to create a team of such ineffable puissance that oddsmakers already have installed them as heavy favorites to win it all, while sundry pundits are predicting that they’ll break the regular-season record of seventy-two wins currently held by Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. It is, no doubt, the greatest basketball team in history never to have played a single game. In an hour, Dwyane Wade will be in uniform, sitting at a microphone flanked by Bosh and James as three hundred or so reporters and cameramen gather for a press conference. He sits center stage because, at twenty-eight, Wade’s still the Man, still the face of the franchise he led, helped hugely by Shaquille O’Neal, to an NBA championship in 2006. But today’s press conference — a clusterfuck without precedent for Miami, no NBA hotbed — will mainly be about LeBron, who will furrow his brow, stroke his chin, and look puzzled and unhappy as questioner after questioner asks him how it feels to go from hero to shitheel.
Later today, Wade and the Heat will head to an Air Force base six hundred miles away, where Pat Riley, the team’s president, decided to hold training camp in an apparent effort both to keep his team cloistered and to instill a more ascetic sense of mission than that provided by the Heat’s traditional post-practice South Beach excursions.
And in a few days — only three minutes into Miami’s preseason opener — Dwyane Wade will tweak a hamstring, leave the floor, and give journalists all the reason they’ll need to start talking about how the Heat is now LeBron’s team.
Right now, though, Wade’s sitting in a black T-shirt with NERD in big white block letters on the chest, talking with Esquire about his journey from the South Side of Chicago to fame, fortune, and scarfing shrimp on the White House lawn:
I have no idea. I’m a junior — I got that name from my father. I asked him — my grandma said that’s how she felt it was spelled. There you go.
“We’ll be the Yankees of basketball. It’s already true — a love/hate thing, but you know what? We’re fine with that.”
My freshman year, I was academically ineligible — I didn’t pass my ACT. But I was able to practice with the team. This one day, the ball swung to me in the corner. I took it to the baseline and Jon Harris came to take a charge, and I just took off over the top of him. As I’m taking off, he’s trying to fall back, and I just go over the top of him and dunk.
I mean, I surprised myself. Everybody in the gym was like, Holy shit! It was one of those moments where everybody stopped. They couldn’t believe it. It was in the school paper the next day, it was talked about all over campus, and what it did was just make everybody continue to keep my name in their minds for next season when I’d take that court.
“This team has a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of teams out there — L. A., Orlando, Boston— that are better than the Miami Heat right now.”
A lot of the stuff you do in games, you can’t practice it. You can practice your jump shot, you can practice your ball handling, but you can’t practice some of the moves and the things you do in games. It just comes at that moment — it’s God-given.
I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do none of that. No tattoos.
When you get to college, you’re finally on your own, and you feel like, I’m a man now, I can make my own decisions. When I was growing up, we couldn’t wear earrings, couldn’t wear hats, and my father said, “No tattoos.” So I started wearing hats, I got my ears pierced, and I said, “I’m gonna go to the tattoo parlor.” I walked in there and I walked right out. It just wasn’t me. And I knew it wasn’t me. It would’ve been forced. I would’ve been being like other people and not myself.
The thing about fame or celebrity is that there’s not a book to show you how to do things. You’ve got to learn on the fly, and you’ve got to feel your personality — how much you can deal with, how much you can’t deal with — and try to make it work. You’ve got to take the arrows that come with it and just try to be the best person you can be.
One thing Shaq did for me when he came was give me knowledge that I needed. I was still a shy kid, and he pretty much told me to open up. He said, “Let your creativity be seen, put your fingerprints on the things that you’re doing.” It opened up so many more business opportunities for me.
Anybody can say what they want to about Shaq, but he’s a great businessman, a very smart man.
We love to play this game — we would play this game for free — but we have an unbelievable opportunity to do more. Guys are brands and guys are part of big brands. You have to look at yourself as a brand, no question about it.
No one said success in life is easy. If it was, everybody would be successful, and success wouldn’t be a big thing. I know I got a great opportunity and I cherish it.
My time in Miami will come and go. There’s going to be another guy come in, but that fan stays the same. There’s going to be fans in the arena now watching me who’re going to be here thirty years from now watching someone else.
If I come back, in my next life I’d like to be a trust-fund baby, where my parents made a lot of money and I could just fly under the radar.
We’ll be the Yankees of basketball. It’s already true — a love/hate thing, but you know what? We’re fine with that. We understand that we did something we wanted to do. As an individual, you don’t get an opportunity to do that often in this game. That’s what it came down to with us — myself and Chris and LeBron — we all felt for the first time we were able to control our own destiny.
It’s weird, really, because I haven’t felt it yet. I haven’t been on the court with those guys yet in battle. The only thing I can go off of is that when Shaq was here, I was on the court and I said, “I got Shaq.” It changes the game — the game is totally different. Right now I haven’t felt it yet.
This team has a lot of work to do. I don’t look at the individual players right now and say, “Oh, my God, this is amazing.” I say, “This team, we got a lot of work to do, because there’s a lot of teams out there — L. A., Orlando, Boston, and so on — that are better teams than the Miami Heat right now. So how do we get to their page fast, like, now?” I look at this team and I’m proud of it, I’m happy, but once tomorrow starts, we got to get to practice. We got to get to work.
It’s hard, what I was doing the last couple years, trying to score forty a night, trying to lead us. It’s hard on your body. So let these guys take me to the mountaintop, and I’ll ride the wave.
The way I was raised, getting married early, having a kid early — all that set me up to be in this position where I have guys who look to me as the older guy. And I am that — I can be that for them. I do have a championship I was blessed to be able to win. I know how it looks, so now I’m able to pass that knowledge on to guys that haven’t won it yet, that haven’t done it. So this is a great opportunity for all of us.
“My time in Miami will come and go. There’s going to be another guy come in, but that fan stays the same.”
Getting invited to the White House is unbelievable. All these friends — LeBron, Chris Paul, Magic Johnson, Alonzo, Carmelo, Bill Russell — the basketball was unbelievable. But the best thing was when we went back to the White House on the lawn, and it was like a big picnic, everyone sitting out there, talking, Luther Vandross playing in the background. It was just a great vibe.
It was a reflective moment. You look around and say, Not only is this something I’ve never dreamed of, but it makes you want to strive to be better. I just felt at that moment, I want to do more, because I like this. I want to feel this again, how it felt to be there amongst a lot of greats.
You have those moments where you reflect. Wherever you’re at — driving the car, in the plane, wherever — and you say, “No matter what I’m going through in life at the moment, from where I came from to where I am now, you know what? Life ain’t bad.”