When Dwyane Wade Lost His Cool

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 17: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat runs back up the court after missing a shot against the Indiana Pacers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 17, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Pacers defeated the Heat 94-75. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Dwyane Wade had the worst playoff game of his career in Game 3 against the Pacers, and the Heat stumbled to their second-straight playoff loss without Chris Bosh. But that's only part of where things have gone wrong.

"Dwyane Wade came into this game averaging 26 points," Hubie Brown said late in the second quarter. "Taking 22 shots a game, getting to the line 12 times. Right now, he is 0-5 with two turnovers. It's magnificent that Miami is still up." It wouldn't last much longer.

"The Heat say he's fine," Mike Tirico told the audience after halftime. "But we've been observing him. ... Dwyane doesn't look right. I don't know if he's not feeling well, whatever it is."

A few minutes into the second half, we saw Paul George of the Pacers conceding a wide-open three, but Wade passed it up. Instead, he gingerly hopped a few steps forward, right into George and a foul-line fadeaway that missed so badly it actually gave Miami the rebounding advantage. The ball bounced back to the Heat, and eventually back to Wade behind the three-point line. He took it this time, and barely drew iron. The Heat were down seven at this point.

"Mario Chalmers, Juwan Howard, LeBron James out there talking with Dwyane Wade, and at the end of that timeout, a little back and forth between Eric Spoelstra and Dwyane Wade in that huddle. Here's what was happening at the end of that timeout as those two guys were talking about. ... Whatever, shot selection, whatever it might be. Dwyane was pretty hot." There's Mike Tirico talking about the video from Game 3 where Wade looks like he's ready to fight his coach.

Then, there's Hubie again. "Wade is having a very, very difficult game right here."

In case it wasn't clear.

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The Pacers played great defense all night and forced Miami into what felt like an endless blooper real of missed threes and lazy jumpers. Roy Hibbert anchored a balanced Indiana offense on the other end, as the Pacers pulled away almost as soon as the second half began. And Larry Bird spent the game surrounded by 20,000 Indianapolis fans wearing T-shirts saying "Gold Swagger," which has gotta be considered a sign of an imminent apocalypse.

But it was hard to watch Game 3 and come away thinking about anyone but Wade. As Erik Spoelstra said afterward, "When you go into halftime and Dwyane hasn't scored, and you're tied? 43-43? You're like 'OK, this is a good position to be in.'" Only it wasn't.

Game 3 was just the loudest example of something I've been coming to terms with for two years now: Dwyane Wade isn't what he used to be. He was probably playing through some sort of injury on Thursday night, so this isn't about his game somehow falling to pieces. As a player he's still occasionally great and he'll be great again, even if his whining to the refs is as bad as anyone in basketball.

And it's definitely not about him shouting at his coach during the third quarter, a clip and/or shouting excuse that's sure to be waterboarded into our subconscious by noon Friday at the latest. That happens all the time in sports, and if a player's having as bad a game as Wade did, frustration's understandable.

Game 3 was more of a general reminder for me that Wade, at one point maybe the coolest player the NBA had, has become something a lot less fun.

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(Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

It dates back to last year, after the new Heat superteam lost on opening night, and Wade strolled up to the podium and dismissed any criticism, saying, "Sorry if everyone thought we were going 82-0."

Then later in the year, when he criticized Spoelstra: "Me and LeBron are going to continue to try to find a way with the game plan we have. We're trying to be effective. We have a great coaching staff; I'm sure they'll look at things and see how to utilize us a little better." Keep in mind, this came while there was pretty much constant speculation that Spoelstra wouldn't last past midseason.


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Also keep in mind that as long as Dwyane Wade's been the face of the Miami Heat, Spoelstra's always been the guy behind the scenes, helping build him into what he's become. As Kevin Arnovitz explained at ESPN last summer:

... Wade is Spoelstra's subject, both on film and in the gym. When Wade comes to the Heat as a rookie in 2003, his jump shot still needs some refinement, and Spoelstra takes on that challenge as a project.

[...]

Spoelstra works Wade out incessantly. He wants Wade to establish more balance on his shot and to learn to absorb contact. "I used to do my 1-2 step-in, wide base and he would literally shove me so I could learn how to shoot with contact," Wade says. "And once I got that done, he made me do it with a shot fake, which is even harder."

Fast forward to a game in November 2004, with the Heat and Jazz tied in overtime. Guarded by Raja Bell on the last possession, the ball goes into Wade.

"It was the exact shot we'd been working on," Wade says. "I hit the game-winner and I remember looking over at him, smiling like, 'This is working.'"

Context like that made his shots at Spoelstra that much harder to process. Even when he clarified his comments along the way, he managed to undermine Spoelstra along the way.

"I never would put anything on the coach," he said, "Win, lose or draw because they can give us the game plan, but they are not on the court playing. With this team, especially with the IQ of this team, we are smart enough to make adjustments on the floor. ... Now is the time to take ownership that this is our team, even though we respect our coaches for what they do."

He's much better with the media than LeBron, and his easy smile made him my girlfriend's favorite player the first time she ever saw him play in person, and it's all part of how he's kept his reputation mostly in tact through all the Decision-related melodrama.

All of which is to say that it's easy to miss, but the example above is a microcosm of the past two years. You have to read closely to see it, but Dwyane Wade actually seems like a bit of a dick these days.

Just in the past week, we saw him tackle Darren Collison with a flagrant foul that almost certainly should've gotten him kicked out of the game. Then he was criticizing the Pacers for the way they celebrated winning Game 2. Which, well, OK. If that's not a pot-kettle situation... (Wade after being criticized for a celebration in last year's Finals: "Every team in the league when they go on a run, they do something. ... It's a part of the game of basketball.")

And there was also this glowing ESPN feature, praising him for his humility and "the ultimate sacrifice" he made this year that allowed LeBron James to win the MVP.

So Wade gave in. He fought off his ego and decided he'd take the supporting role in this potential blockbuster flick.

He told LeBron to play like the MVP he was. And whaddya know? LeBron's MVP again.

"I just had some time to sit back and think a lot," Wade said. "I just realized what we're playing for, and what I'm playing for. ... I felt that it had to come from nobody but me, to say, 'Go ahead, man. You're the best player in the world. We'll follow your lead.' Once I said that, I thought he kind of exhaled a little bit."

Which, well, OK. Couple issues there.

  1. LeBron was every bit as dominant last year, so I'm not sure why we're pretending this year was some sweeping change in 2012.
  2. The only major difference was that Wade missed about 20 games this season, giving the world less of an excuse to discount how unbelievably dominant LeBron is.
  3. Most importantly, did Wade just kinda sorta take some of the credit for LeBron's MVP?

This sucks.

For so long, Wade was one of the two or three most enjoyable superstars in the league. He was Kevin Durant with more charisma and a killer instinct. Now he's Jordan on the Wizards.

Or, to put it a different way: LeBron has always wanted to be like Jay-Z, but over the first seven years of their careers it was Wade who personified Jay's combination of cutthroat instincts and charm that hooked everyone. And then Heat became Watch The Throne, mostly because the same way Jay-Z recognized he needed Kanye West to keep him relevant, Wade knew he needed LeBron, and he was savvy enough to make it happen. The problem is what's happened since.

The genesis of this Miami Heat team was such a watershed moment for the future of basketball that there are a million different lessons to be learned from what's happened since. We'll be debating the meaning of this Miami Heat team for decades. But as much as we talk about how The Decision changed LeBron's career and basketball, in general, I'm beginning to wonder whether we've all missed just how much it's changed Wade.

I don't know whether it's Heat backlash affecting the way we perceive him, Heat backlash affecting the way he acts, or some combination of the two. But it's definitely happening.

This has nothing to do with the Pacers series or What It All Means or even anything concrete about Wade's game. I just want to say that I miss the old D-Wade. You know, back when he was the coolest player in the league -- not the old man badgering officials for calls on one end, cheapshotting the Pacers on the other, then dismissing them in the media with a different kind of cheap shot.

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"I've been around Dwyane for many years," Spoelstra reminded the media Thursday after he brushed off the confrontation between he and Wade. "I've seen him bounce back on similar storylines like this and come back and have great games." The Heat have an extra day off for Wade to rest, and he's still a great player, so he probably will bounce back from here. It just won't be as fun as it used to be.

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