Dwyane Wade: Some Nerve

by March 10, 2008

By Khalid Salaam

As far as Dwyane Wade is concerned, I got two words for you: nerve damage.

There is nothing anyone can say that can trump that as far as I’m concerned, and here’s why: Dwyane Wade is way too talented, way too confident and way too prideful to sit himself. So his agent, manager, Heat ownership, the people at Converse, they all need to see how serious of a situation his current injury is and talk to him. By continuing to play in his signature “no abandon” style, he is risking serious damage to his body and career. The next time Wade falls, maybe he shouldn’t get up, or if he does, he needs to walk over to the bench and stay there.

Every generation has a player like this, who seemingly comes out of nowhere. A guy who’s not from a top-tier basketball school, neither underrated nor overrated. He is rated right, at least by usual physical testing standards and by looking at his stats. People feel he would be a good NBA player, but he probably doesn’t have Hall of Fame potential, and then he gets to the pros and his talent blows up.

Wade led a good-but-not-great Marquette squad to the Final Four in 2003 and along the way forced his name into Lottery consideration. The Heat picked him fifth, so it’s not like his rise to prominence was unexpected, but it happened faster and with more success then anticipated. One minute he was a rook, then he was shooting buzzer-beaters in the Playoffs, then he was in the All-Star Game, then he was the Finals MVP. Wade’s style was sort of half-Iverson, half-Jordan, perhaps overly physical for a guard. He resonated both with purists who appreciated his relentless drives to the basket and the common fans who appreciated the athleticism. His jersey sales skyrocketed to the top and he became a superstar, appearing on shows like Live With Regis and Kelly, making best-dressed lists and selling shoes like crazy.

His deal with Converse was initially part of a team package, a bunch of young, on-the-come-up dudes who could give the classic sneaker company much-needed recognition. But nowhere in the iconic brand’s wildest dreams—or anyone else’s, for that matter—did anyone envision Wade’s shoe becoming a big hit. All of a sudden you saw kids wearing Converse. His commercials were on all the time, pumping positive energy into a brand pushed aside by changing tastes and demographics. Wade helped bring Converse back while at the same time bringing the Miami Heat their first NBA championship. He owes you nothing. Or in a more pragmatic viewpoint, push him now and watch Wade turn into the next Penny Hardaway.

Remember, Penny was just as good when he came in. He also blew away expectations and helped lead the other Florida expansion team into the uncharted territory of postseason success. He forced his way into “best player in the League” conversations in the same way. Penny was just as popular, his shoes were considered instant classics and his commercials (especially the Chris Rock-voiced L’il Penny ones) were as omnipresent as Wade’s T-Mobile spots. He even played with Shaq, and when Shaq left he overexerted himself and succumbed to injuries. He was never, ever the same. We’ve seen this movie before; we know how it will end.

The discussion should be easier when one considers Miami’s record as of mid-January. They still have single-digit wins and thoughts of getting healthy and making the postseason are put to rest once you take a look at their roster. Shaq is having knee problems, Mourning is retired, Jason Williams is hobbled and Pat Riley could quit at any point. Best case scenarios are out the door. You have to be realistic. The East is improved, so easy wins are at a minimum. Actually, the Heat is now circled on teams’ schedules as an easy win. They are not a contender. Accept it and let guys get healthy. Plus, this is an extraordinarily intriguing Draft. Gordon? Beasley? Love? There are dudes who can come in next season and compete and contribute. Why the push?

In early January, Pat Riley told the media that Wade’s shoulder was damaged to an “extent rarely seen” by doctors and that the nerve damage was “serious.” Again, what’s the point? If it is this bad and the team is so far out of the Playoff race that nothing he does can matter, then why play him? Wade is too valuable to the League, too great a player to allow his career to be sidelined by stupidity. Nerve damage is not the sort of thing to trifle with, and if his shoulder (never mind the knee on which he had surgery to repair cartilage last May) is damaged any more, we could have already seen his best days.