By Michael Tillery

I caught the Heat at the Sixers last Thursday, and here’s how I saw it…

The Heat are a depleted team and sit at 9-39. There’s no getting around it. It’s bad—real bad. It’s not normal to see one of the NBA’s royalty having it so rough. When was the last time you saw an NBA superstar in such a woeful spot?

Yeah, it’s been that long.

Dwyane Wade sure as hell is not used to this. His Marquette team made it to the Final Four the year Melo and Syracuse cut ‘em down and then he was drafted by the Heat—a team on the up and up. Most thought Carmelo Anthony and LeBron would get break the tape first, but Flash got that June confetti shine before either player made it out of the first round. Yeah, Diesel rolled into town and helped make it happen, but Flash was the MVP of the series—averaging 34 points mainly from charity stripe trips in the teens each game. It mos def seemed like an accomplished career was in the making. Wade was in position to be one of the greats early.

For the time being at least, that’s all over now.

Shaq is gone. This will be an entirely different squad with Marion on the wing. The Matrix is known for guarding anyone from the 1 to 4, filling the lane on the break or hoisting up his unorthodox jumper in reverse.

It’s definitely a period of transition for Flash. Dude has to gain a new purpose professionally. It ain’t gonna be easy any more. It’s time to man up as the world watches and it will be interesting to see how the Marion and Banks for Shaq trade works out for both Phoenix and Miami. Personally, I think he’s got it in him, for Flash is as professional as they come. He’s a reserved assassin of reticent alchemy along the likes of Derek Jeter or Barry Sanders so it’ll all come out in the wash.

The game was uneventful. Philly definitely took advantage of a team in disarray like they should have. Sixer mascot Hip Hop had the cameraman behind press row covered in silly string to the delight of a crowd more interested in his antics than the NBA contest before them.

Then things changed….

Rodney Carney, who is known to get up, had a sick tomahawk flush on Flash early in the second quarter off the break. Wade simply smiled (What else could he do?) as the crowd—and even the press—let out a collective: “Ooooh!” The Sixers have been coming on strong lately with their young cats (Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young, Rodney Carney) jumping into the passing lanes, getting turnovers and creating fast break opportunities leading to crowd pleasing dunks.

Well…

In the 4th quarter Flash decided it was time for the get back. He caught a pass creeping under the basket and banged it strong on Carney—sending him sprawling helplessly to the floor (Knees and ass all scraped up, but I guess that’s why he wears his socks high and his shorts low). Wade then got a just so ya know tech staring the young guy down as he lay on the floor shortly thereafter. Classic exchange and one both will remember because the locker room will not let them forget.

After the depleted Heat were on the wrong end of a 101-84 defeat, the first questions in the locker room focused on the dunks.

Wade unquestionably a little humbled and careful with his words because his team was in earshot offered: “I don’t have the hops that I used to. I just smiled when he dunked on me. He got me. It happens to everyone. But to get him back and he fell was even better. (Laughter) It was all for the fans. It’s all a show. I’ll hear it from my teammates, but it’s all better though.”

Right on time Mark Blount yelled out: “Watch ya head!” eliciting laughter from everyone in the room as Flash boyishly smiled a little embarrassed.

This was the last Heat game before Marion, and the big trade was obviously still a big topic of conversation. Mike Lee from the Washington Post asked Flash if he talked to Shaq and how he felt about the big fella getting a 22-game bump in the standings after the trade and Wade joked: “Yeah I talked to him last night and I told him that was some BS. That’s the one thing I didn’t like that he goes to the best record in the Western Conference and leaves the worst record in the East. That kinda sucks.”

I then asked Flash how is learning from this personally after having so much early success and then going through present period of uncertainty. Introspective, he states: “My career will write its own book. I don’t know what comes next. The only thing I could do is come in every day—just like I did when we were winning—and find a way to get better and better. We know it’s not going to be perfect at all times. I was fortunate to come in with a team that made dramatic changes early in my career and put a championship caliber team (together) and we won a championship. Now we are in the process of getting back that way, so now we are in the midst of a small rebuilding stage. It won’t be that long. I tell you that. We’ll get it back.”

On the way to the bus, fellow SLAM contributor and TSF writer Anthony Gilbert and I spoke with Wade about this and that. There were kids all over the place, diamond eyed and mouths wide, clamoring to get a chance to speak with Dwyane. He stopped for every youthful fan who wanted his autograph or picture with class. It gave me a chance to ask him what he would want to say to his loyal fans during this rough stretch:

“I think the main thing is…once kids get to know you—until they get to know you—they are not necessarily following your team. They are following you. I’m still the same person I’ve been whether I’m winning or losing. I think kids like Dwyane Wade for when we were winning 59 games my second year. I think that’s why I have the same following. I appreciate the fans—our fans. Fans make the game. Fans help you uplift your spirit.”

Dwyane who was that person—public or not—that gave you a passionate state of consciousness and one you might draw from? Again introspective, Wade says: “Well, definitely all of the heroes we all are familiar with. Growing up you learn about everyone for the most part who affected our history. Basketball is my thing, so that person was Michael Jordan. He was very inspirational to me. He really was the one to break me to the celebrity of this (NBA) world. I really enjoyed what he did for the game.”