There are times when sports' conventional wisdom can also double as its biggest truisms, and the purported difficultly of winning back-to-back championships might be the most honest of them all. Look no further than the Celtics, a team that won a title in their first year with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and never got another one. The San Antonio Spurs, with four championships scattered over the course of an amazing 16 seasons of sustained success, might serve as the ultimate example.
Even when the future looks bright, the end is likely more immediate than it seems. There will always be another SuperTeam™ on the horizon, one that will be younger, more athletic and just as hungry. The balance of power is inherently fragile. The play of Dwyane Wade this postseason personifies that as well as anything.
These Miami Heat will ultimately be remembered for how many championships they win, but the prologue to their story will be vital. First came the initial shock that it was actually happening. Next was LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade taking it a step further by vocalizing the greatest fear of opposing fans around the league.
Whether that "not three, not four, not five" line does down in history as unbridled arrogance or something close to prophetic remains to be seen, but it isn't a stretch to believe it's tied directly to Wade. LeBron remains every bit as indestructible as ever; Bosh's skillset seems unlikely to deteriorate with the passage of time. It's Wade, then, on which the entire enterprise's success hinges.
He's the one who's already 31 years old after playing three seasons at Marquette. He's the one who plays a position notorious for feeling the effects of aging. He's the one who used to dominate the league because of his Earth-shattering first step.
Wade is also set to make over $41 million the next two seasons, money he's unlikely to opt out of. The Heat are what they are moving forward, and the play of Wade will go a long way towards determining if that's a historic juggernaut or a vague disappointment.
This is why the Heat's 109-93 Game 4 victory feels like a milestone in the Big Three's history. If the Spurs had found victory to take a 3-1 series lead, the writing might have been on the wall for Miami. Instead, Wade turned in a throwback performance no one thought he had in him and suddenly the Heat look like the same world-beater they were always destined to become.
Both LeBron and Shane Battier were quick to re-bestow the nickname "Flash" upon Wade in the moments following the game. It felt fitting. There was a time when the moniker captured Wade perfectly. He would blow past his defender before they even realized it. He would get lost in a cloud of bodies before rising out of traffic for a dunk. He would hit quick-trigger jumpers from nonsensical angles and get to the foul line as easily an anyone.
This version of Wade is best remembered for leading the Heat to a championship in 2006, but his 2009 season might have been even better. That was only four short seasons ago. Father Time is nothing if not cruel.
Wade has been fighting a balky knee for about three months, and it's effects are clear as day. He entered Game 4 averaging just 14.2 points per game in the postseason. In the wake of a dreadful Game 3, there were no shortage of folks documenting the disaster he had been in the Finals, with some even calling for him to be benched.
It's funny how we in the media all look so smart until the moment we're proven wrong. What Wade did in scoring 32 points to help even the series at 2-2 was nothing short of vintage. That was less some newly-reconfigured version of Wade than it was old-timey "Flash."
Instead of lingering in no man's land like he had the rest of the series, Wade was working the baseline and cutting with a purpose. The way the Spurs played him in the first three games of the series was reminiscent of how Miami played Indiana's Sam Young in the previous round, playing off of him to such a degree it felt like a taunt. Wade made them pay for it this time. Quick, strong, explosive, intelligent, determined ... all those adjectives that used to describe Wade suddenly fit once again.
James and Wade have coexisted well enough in Miami to reach the Finals three times and take home the trophy once already, but their relationship has never felt symbiotic. From the beginning, James and Wade had a tendency to take turns with offensive possessions rather than set each other up, and it proved true yet again in Game 4.
Of Wade's 14 field goals, only one was assisted by James. Wade was assisted by any teammate on just four of his baskets all night.
This is just how it goes for the Heat when things are working, and they were working in grand fashion on Thursday. James, Wade and Bosh combined to score 78 percent of the team's points just one game after being outscored by a San Antonio Big Three of Gary Neal, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. That was as cute as it was confusing. Perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised the Heat rushed to restore order to the universe.
Whether coach Erik Spoelstra said Wade's name three times in the mirror before tip-off or the wonders of modern medicine intervened to make that balky knee feel healthier isn't terribly relevant. What is relevant is that the NBA Finals are tied 2-2 and Dwyane Wade, at least for a night, looked like he's back to being one of the best players in the league. Miami should feel grateful today. The Heat won't have a dynasty without him.