A long time ago, way back in the year 2011, Dwyane Wade was used as a cudgel against LeBron James. Wade was a "winner" because he had a ring. It did not matter that the accomplishment came in 2006. In the eyes of many, one title is evidence of whatever that ineffable "winner" quality might be.
LeBron James wasn't a winner. He had no title, and more importantly per this dynamic, a lot of people hated him. If people dislike you, they will look for reasons to scorn you as a loser. Steve Nash, a popular player who never got to the Finals, often received the sympathy that was a #FreeSteveNash Twitter hashtag, as pundits and fans decried his unfortunate predicament. After James angered much of the nation with "The Decision," he received no such sympathy.
Instead, he was ridiculed for joining "Wade's team," and mocked as a "sidekick." For this allegation to stick, Wade had to be held up as a shining counter example to whatever LeBron supposedly lacked. John Krolik laid out the dynamic on ESPN's Heat Index: Wade was Jeter, LeBron was A-Rod. Here's what Krolik wrote after a Miami playoff loss to Philadelphia:
When the Heat failed to close out Game 4 against Philadelphia, the overwhelming majority of the blame was placed on LeBron after he had a potential game-tying floater blocked on the Heat's final possession. This was the case even though Wade had missed a pull-up jumper one possession earlier and had two 3s drained right in his face. The outcry was unanimous: Wade should have taken the last shot. Of course, Wade is 0-5 in last-shot situations this season, but every one of those shots was apparently impressive enough to make LeBron's failed floater particularly egregious.
After Miami won three playoff series in devastating fashion, we were all witness to LeBron James' ultimate humiliation. Against Dallas in the 2011 Finals, James played far below his normal production. While he struggled, Dwyane Wade sliced Dallas to the tune of 26.5 points per game on 55 percent shooting over six games. When the Heat lost, nearly all the blame fell on James.
Now, little more than a year later, Krolik's article reads like it came from another century. The dynamic has completely, dramatically reversed itself over the course of a few months. We're coming off a sequence of LeBron James grabbing an MVP, Finals MVP and gold medal.
Not only was James present for a title and a gold medal, he was near-universally cited as the most important important player on both his professional team (hence the Finals MVP) and Olympic team. LeBron now gets to be the "winner," and Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year."
It should be noted that James achieved this public comeback as Dwyane Wade struggled with knee injuries. Part of the reason for why LeBron received such unanimous credit for his Finals run was that Wade obviously played far worse than his ostensible co-star. While Dwyane certainly had his moments (He was crucial in closing out the Pacers), there were other games he might rather forget.
In the Conference Semifinals, Wade had a game where he went 2-13 for five points and five turnovers. Against Boston, he had a 7-22 and a 6-17 performance. In the Finals, his two highest point totals came in games where he missed a majority of his shots.
With Wade playing at a mortal level, the warts in his game received more attention than ever before. Dwyane has a tendency to argue calls and not get back on defense. The flaw came to the fore when Boston burned Miami over the course of a first half and Rajon Rondo gave his explanation as to why:
Rondo may not have named Wade specifically, but basketball pundits knew exactly whom he was talking about. Wade was finally receiving some of the scrutiny that James had been owning over the past two seasons.
Wade's disappointing playoff play was attributed to knee problems, and it would be supposedly fixed this year. So far, Wade's playing worse than any time since his rookie season. At 32.9 MPG, he's getting role player minutes and managing under 20 points per game. He's getting to the rim less often, leading gasbags like myself to wonder whether his career is in decline.
If 2010-2012 was all about LeBron, it seems that 2013 will be a referendum on Wade. "Is he still D-Wade" is the question that hangs over Miami's season. If Wade has indeed already become a role player, people will (unfairly) wonder if he was ever that great in the first place. By securing his status as his team's best player, LeBron has flipped the script.