It took a couple of seasons, but the basketball world has finally embraced the notion that Dwyane Wade will be little more than LeBron James' sidekick going forward.
That may be a gross miscalculation, however.
Wade, of course, was the alpha dog of the Miami Heat for his first seven years in the NBA. His role—and the very foundation of the NBA—was forever altered on July 8, 2010, when James made his infamous decision to join forces with Wade (and Chris Bosh) down in Miami.
James and Wade shared the burden of leading the Heat during the 2010-11 season, but James' reticence in crucial situations ultimately led to Miami's demise in the NBA Finals.
For the past two years, Wade hasn't just deferred to James: He's gone so far as to assume the role of the team's villain. The paradigm shift in Wade's play and behavior has allowed James to mature into a bona fide superstar, and as a result, the Heat have captured two consecutive titles.
The events of the past 24 months have led many to begin crafting the epitaph of Wade's career. But there's a reason why the 31-year-old shooting guard continues to be a perennial All-NBA selection: The fire inside of him burns stronger than ever.
"Any time someone throws dirt on you, you always want to prove them wrong," said Wade while speaking to ESPN's Tom Haberstroh back in December.
LeBron James' basketball skill is such that anyone paired next to him will appear inferior in comparison. But calling Wade a mere "sidekick" isn't just a insult to the player, but a clear misapplication of the English language as well.
Few sidekicks finish an NBA season with a Player Efficiency Rating of 24.0 (seventh in the league in 2012-13). And not only is Wade still a premier shooting guard, but he was also one of just four players last season who averaged at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game.
Critics point to Wade's health as a troubling black mark, and myriad knee issues have forced the former Marquette star to be more judicious with his shot attempts. But with his renewed mindset, the 10-year veteran shot a career-best 52.1 percent from the field during the 2012-13 campaign.
That said, Wade was so erratic during Miami's recent playoff run that there were those questioning whether he should even be on the court for Game 7 of the NBA Finals. However, after undergoing eight hours of therapy, Wade silenced the critics with a 23-point, 10-rebound performance in the most pressure-filled game of his career.
"When you change your position, going from being talked about as one of the three best players in this game to people questioning your ability, I needed this one to validate that what I did was the right thing," said Wade after the Heat captured the Larry O'Brien Trophy this past June. "I can be at peace with anything going forward."
James' face may now be the one that adorns the entrance to the Heat locker room, but it should be noted that Wade remains one of Miami's co-captains (along with Udonis Haslem). The little brother may be the one receiving most of the accolades, but the big brother is still a driving force behind the team's success.
"Running mate" may be a more appropriate phrase to describe Wade, who should be close to 100 percent this fall after he spends the summer giving his aching body a much-needed break. Yet even with nearly 800 professional games to his credit, his status as an elite-level player isn't in question, and won't be for quite some time.
The only reason the word "sidekick" should be used in relation to Wade is if one chooses to reference a certain product he endorsed back in 2007. As Game 4 of the NBA Finals showed us, Wade still has a little bit of superhero left in him.