Miami Heat, NBA Champions: Dwyane Wade's legacy grows, even as his career turns down

USA TODAY Sports

The legacy of Dwyane Wade might be shaded by LeBron James' stardom, but his place among the NBA's best is solid.

A decade doesn't seem long enough for Dwyane Wade's career arc to already find itself on the downturn, but that is the case with a reckless aggression that, fall by fall, has taken its toll on the Miami Heat shooting guard. After the Heat's second championship in a row and Wade's third with the team, it's clear that no brevity can overlook Wade's mark on the NBA.

Wade's two championships alongside LeBron James could skew the perspective of his importance. Wade did lead Miami to its first NBA title in 2006 and won an MVP, but he has been the sidekick to James in the last two. During the 2013 Finals, Wade played on a right knee suffering from multiple bone bruises, and taking a hit from Spurs guard Manu Ginobili in Game 6 added another layer of pain for Wade to overcome.

Wade played about as well as anybody could've asked in Game 7. Sure, his presence on the floor still allowed the Spurs to pack the paint, and he sometimes seemed hampered by the knee. At several points, he found himself clutched over in pain, once literally crawling across the court trying to catch up to a lead pass.

But he had 23 points to go along with ten rebounds, hitting mid-range jumpers and finishing deftly in the paint with both hands. He came through in the clutch. In his first 19 games of the postseason, he only hit 20 points twice, with only one double-double. In the final four games, he cleared 30 points and hit 20 on two other occasions while recording a pair of double-doubles.

He finished the postseason averaging 15.9 points and 4.6 rebounds while Eurostepping his way for dunks and jumping into passing lanes. It was everything else the Heat needed as James steered the ship.

But how will Wade be remembered?

First and foremost, it was that odd career arc that should be a credit to Wade rather than a deterrence when discussing his legacy. Wade's early years didn't lead to much postseason success, but the Heat's addition of an aging Shaquille O'Neal gave him the hint -- you can't do it alone in the NBA. Though he averaged 28 points, six assists and six rebounds per game in that MVP postseason, Wade needed greatness around him.

Recognizing that his body might succumb to his slashing style might've been the most savvy revelation of his career.

Once O'Neal was long gone, he rolled the dice. Wade put the perspective on his career at risk. Even though James took the brunt of it, for Wade to consider joining forces with James and Chris Bosh asked for jabs at his individual accomplishments. Then again, he had already been a scoring champion in 2009, made an All-Defensive team and had been to one All-Star game after another.

All the talk comparing James to Michael Jordan naturally makes Wade a Scottie Pippen. But even Pippen earned respect as one of the best ever following his career.

The result of giving up alpha-dog status was additional titles. That probably weighs more heavily on Wade's legacy than anything. After all, if rings are the sticking point when it comes to discussing the best ever, Wade still has more than LeBron. And he has the other awards to make him, obviously, more than a championship hanger-on like Robert Horry or insert-any-of-Jordan's-teammates-here.

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