Dwyane Wade, Other Superstars Talk LeBron and What It Means to Be Clutch

Dwyane Wade tells B/R Mag about the LeBron play that made him say, “What the f--k?“, and today’s most clutch athletes—John Wall, Peyton Manning, Carlos Correa and more detail how they come through in big moments.
photo of Jonathan AbramsJonathan Abrams@jpdabramsSenior Writer, B/R MagJune 5, 2017

Dwyane Wade watched from a suite inside Oracle Arena as Stephen Curry bounced a pass to a seemingly open Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. LeBron James, of course, emerged on a sprint to block the attempt.

"Everybody was like—pardon my French—'What the f--k?'" Wade tells B/R Mag in a conversation about the characteristics of clutch. "He literally got dropped out of the air to do it. He came out of nowhere. Just one of those plays, man, that is a defining play in his career that people will talk about and how that's going to be shown over and over again for his legacy. He did it in a different way."

Wade—like sports superstars Peyton and Eli Manning, Nneka Ogwumike, Carlos Correa, John Wall and Paul George, who also spoke with B/R Mag—says a clutch player comes through in those moments when the stakes are the highest.

"A lot of us look at Finals games as that," Wade says. "Let's go back to last year. I look at Cleveland and how they came back from 3-1. That was not just a one-clutch game. It was clutch every moment from 3-1 on for Bron and for Kyrie [Irving], who really made clutch shots. Those are clutch moments for those guys. I look at that as clutch more so than a guy who can hit in a game once in a while."

Wade has had his share of defining moments throughout an NBA career that includes three championships, from his performance as a young prodigy with the Miami Heat against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 Finals to being a veteran and dismissing the Charlotte Hornets in Game 7 in his final season with the Miami Heat during last year's playoffs.

Dwyane Wade has had his moments of coming through in clutch situations throughout his career with the Heat and Bulls.
Dwyane Wade has had his moments of coming through in clutch situations throughout his career with the Heat and Bulls.(AP Images)

Being clutch, Wade says, begins with dependability.

"It's what separates a lot of wins and losses," he says. "Someone that can be counted on to get the ball and make what we call 'the right play.' A lot of times you get a good shot for yourself or create the defense to shift toward you and make a play for your teammates."

Some players live for the moment when pressure will either make or break them, Wade says. The ability to forget mistakes and move on to the next play is crucial. Wade realized he had that ability 11 years ago against Dallas.

"At the end of the day, this game is 50-50," Wade says. "You're going to make a shot or miss a shot. You've got to have the confidence that you're going to do it. I think for me back then, the things I prepare for, the things I worked on, that was the moment where it was like, 'OK, let's see if it's real,' if I really put the work in and had the energy to do it.

"You have to feel the same way making a shot as when you do miss a shot. You've got to be able to hold your head up either way."

A player with enough faith to take a game-deciding shot is "just born with it," Wade says. "And then others, you kind of learn it. You kind of try to prepare. Some just don't want it.

"You have to be in it. You have to feel it. You have to see what it's like, and you have to go through it a few times."

In some cases, you also have to compromise with other alpha-type players.

“It’s what separates a lot of wins and losses,” Wade tells B/R Mag on being clutch. “Someone that can be counted on to get the ball and make what we call ‘the right play.’ A lot of times you get a good shot for yourself or create the defense to shift toward you and make a play for your teammates.”
“It’s what separates a lot of wins and losses,” Wade tells B/R Mag on being clutch. “Someone that can be counted on to get the ball and make what we call ‘the right play.’ A lot of times you get a good shot for yourself or create the defense to shift toward you and make a play for your teammates.”(Getty Images)

In Miami, Wade teamed with the likes of James and, earlier in his career, Shaquille O'Neal. Jimmy Butler took most of Chicago's deciding attempts with the Bulls this season with Wade in his first year with the team.

"With Bron and me in Miami and now here with Jimmy, I always say, 'Hey, I always want it,'" Wade says. "I want it 100 percent of the time. You know when you have another guy on your team—that actually should be a little comforting for you to know that not only can he do it, but you can do it as well.

"You're a better team when you've got more than one guy to go to, one guy that's clutch. Jimmy, here, has become a very clutch player. … In Miami, sometimes we would just read it. Sometimes, it'd be about if I was having a good game, I'd have a certain matchup and vice versa. Then there were times no matter what, Bron was going to get it. You have to do what you can to make sure your team wins. If you ain't got the ball, there's other things that you can do."

Like The Block by James, who has gone from being called LeChoke to the King of Clutch.

"[James] gets a lot of chasedown blocks, but that one was special because of the angle and where he really came from," Wade says. "To me, it was like one of those jaw-dropping kind of moments."

Here's what other superstars have to say about being clutch:  

   

CAN YOU TRAIN FOR IT?

Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens kicker

You either have [clutch] or you don't. If you have it, it's about maintaining it and chasing it every single day you are given an opportunity to play the game. It's not just about game days; it's every single moment leading up to game days—getting yourself in the right state of mind to be able to be that guy.

Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool and Brazil soccer star

It is my job to score, so I spend a lot of time looking back at videos of my goals, and this helps me a lot. I will sit and visualize the game and think about how I can score or pass and try to anticipate how it will play out on the day. For me, mental preparation can be as important as physical preparation.

Nneka Ogwumike tells B/R Mag that clutch cannot be learned but rather in someone's nature to perform at that level.
Nneka Ogwumike tells B/R Mag that clutch cannot be learned but rather in someone's nature to perform at that level.(Getty Images)

Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks star

There's no real way to train to be clutch. You either are or you're not. It's innate. It's in your nature. And once you have experience at the level, it flows through you.

Eli Manning, New York Giants quarterback

It's all about having the confidence to prepare, work hard and get ready. With success and making plays—doing things well in practice—you gain the confidence to be ready for those opportunities, to be ready for those critical moments in games.

Brooke Henderson, LPGA Tour golfer

There isn't much you can do to prepare for pressure-packed moments—with the crowds, TV cameras and the world watching—but when I practice, I try to mentally put myself into those situations and try to execute the shots that I'll need when I'm inside the ropes.

For Paul George, clutch is all about preparing and wanting to be in that moment to perform.
For Paul George, clutch is all about preparing and wanting to be in that moment to perform.(Getty Images)

Paul George, Indiana Pacers star

You have to want to be in those situations. You can't run from it. You have to be prepared and embrace those moments. Knowing that you're prepared, along with knowing the team is putting the ball in your hands, is a great feeling.

Carlos Correa, Houston Astros shortstop

You can train your mind to become a clutch player. You practice every single day, you put in the work, so the physical ability is there. Sometimes the mental strength is not enough. You've got to be mentally strong to be able to deal with those situations.

Becky Sauerbrunn, United States women's national team soccer player

[Clutch] is a mentality, and it's always hard to train a mentality. You have to have trained and have confidence in your training and preparation, that you're going to be primed and ready to go when it matters.

   

WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?

Eli Manning, New York Giants

I don't think about it being on my shoulders; I think about it as, 'Hey, I have a job to do, just like everyone else.' … I'm just trying to do what I've been coached and trained to do and what I've prepared for. You look at the exciting part of the moment and the opportunity to win a football game. … So you don't look at it as being nervous or worried about what might happen; you're excited about what you think is going to happen.

John Wall, Washington Wizards star

My whole mindset is, 'I've got this guy on an island, one-on-one, where I want him.' It's up to me to make the move I want, to get to where I want to be. But also I'm reading the defense when I'm in this zone. I've passed up game-winning shots to somebody else, but at the end of the day, if it's the right read, I want to make the right play because I'm the point guard, not a guy who's trying to force a fadeaway over three people.

Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

I try to keep everything as simple as possible and stick to my routine. I think of the action and not the consequence. I trust Morgan [Cox] is going to throw back 12 o'clock laces over the spot. I trust Sam [Koch] is going to put it down quickly, and at that point, the ball just kicks itself. I'm along for the ride.

"I spend a lot of time looking back at videos of my goals, and this helps me a lot" Coutinho tells B/R Mag. "I will sit and visualize the game and think about how I can score or pass and try to anticipate how it will play out on the day."
"I spend a lot of time looking back at videos of my goals, and this helps me a lot" Coutinho tells B/R Mag. "I will sit and visualize the game and think about how I can score or pass and try to anticipate how it will play out on the day."(Getty Images)

Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool and Brazil

When it comes to free-kicks, I think about my training that week and try to not put any more pressure on myself. I put a lot of effort into mental and physical preparation in the hope that it comes natural to me during the game.

Paul George, Indiana Pacers

You're not thinking about anything else. I'm just thinking about me and the court—not even the guy in front of me.

Brooke Henderson, LPGA Tour

I try not to place too much of an emphasis on the situation and just focus on that individual shot. I've taken thousands of swings and made thousands of putts over the years, so I just try to treat each shot like it's just myself and Brittany—my sister/caddie—on the driving range or putting green.

Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks

I don't. My body just does.

   

HOW DOES IT FEEL?

Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks

Being clutch can feel both eternal and ephemeral. It can feel as though everything is happening in slow motion, and you can remember details down to the millisecond. Or, on the contrary, your mind can be so focused that your recollection is perfect with the exception of that momentary sliver of clutchness. Either way, the feeling is addictive.

"Sometimes the mental strength is not enough," Correa tells B/R Mag. "You've got to be mentally strong to be able to deal with those situations."
"Sometimes the mental strength is not enough," Correa tells B/R Mag. "You've got to be mentally strong to be able to deal with those situations."(Getty Images)

Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

I think I had four walk-offs this year, and the feeling is amazing. When you do something at the end of the game to have your team win, it's one of the best feelings in the world. Everybody likes to win, and when you do it in that fashion, it's great.

Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool and Brazil

As you become a more experienced player, you find that you don't feel the pressure as much as you do when you are younger. Experience definitely helps with my focus and performance.

Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

When you come in and perform and succeed, there is a combination of exhilaration and a wave of relief and a release, all of which come together in a perfect way. That's what it feels like.

   

WHAT'S YOUR MOST CLUTCH MOMENT?

Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks

I'm sure everyone knows my most clutch moment: Game 5 of the WNBA Finals. It will forever be logged in my memory as the shot that best exemplifies my game: acrobatic. What most don't realize is that I'm most proud of the rebound that led to the shot. After the rebound, my earliest memory of the clutch moment is scrambling to defense after a basket was made. I don't remember getting blocked, catching my blocked shot, shooting a one-legged fadeaway or it going in. But I've watched it enough times to know what happens—and still do so as if I'm still anxious for the outcome of that play. My favorite clutch moment is a shot I might have shot for the first time and maybe the only time, but that's what being clutch is all about: making magic.

“Hey, I have a job to do, just like everyone else,” Manning tells B/R Mag on his approach to performing in the clutch. "I’m just trying to do what I’ve been coached and trained to do and what I’ve prepared for. You look at the exciting part of the moment and the opportunity to win a football game."
“Hey, I have a job to do, just like everyone else,” Manning tells B/R Mag on his approach to performing in the clutch. "I’m just trying to do what I’ve been coached and trained to do and what I’ve prepared for. You look at the exciting part of the moment and the opportunity to win a football game."(Getty Images)

Eli Manning, New York Giants

You want to be at your best in the biggest games, and you have two Super Bowls where you have two-minute drives, where you have to score points to win football games. So probably the first Super Bowl—you need a catch to go win—so that's probably one that sticks out as pretty special.

Paul George, Indiana Pacers

Probably Game 1 in Toronto this past playoffs [in 2016]. I had a poor start to the game; I wasn't looking too good. I couldn't think about what actions—what I was doing wrong. I almost hit a reset button going into the second half, and I came out and carried the team to the first road win of the playoffs.

Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

I'm still on a very early part of my journey, hopefully. So the defining clutch moment is hopefully yet to come.

Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

I would say the home runs I hit in the playoffs in 2015 against the Royals and to have five walk-offs in two years of my career.  

   

WHAT'S YOUR DEFINITION OF CLUTCH?

Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

Clutch to me means the ability or mindset to flip a switch and bring out your A-plus game when the people who are counting on you need you the most.

For Becky Sauerbrunn, being clutch is about rising to the challenge and being resilient.
For Becky Sauerbrunn, being clutch is about rising to the challenge and being resilient.(AP Images)

Becky Sauerbrunn, United States women's national team

Clutch is a player who can transcend everything going on around them—external pressures, the field, the ref, the team, the crowd—to focus on their game and bring it at a time when it's tough to bring it. Clutch is an internal thing. It's about motivation. It's about integrity. It's about resiliency.

Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

Keeping your cool under pressure. You've got to be calm and let your mind think about your plan. Especially in my sport, when you're out there hitting in tough situations, you've got to let your mind have a good plan. You've got to relax and only focus on what you can do for the team.

Brooke Henderson, LPGA Tour

It all comes down to practice and believing in yourself. Commit to the club selection, and swing away.

   

THE LAST WORD FROM AN OLD HAND WHO KNOWS CLUTCH BETTER THAN MOST...

Peyton Manning, retired NFL legend

I've had a number of games that we were down in the end at the fourth quarter and had a last drive, and our teams either in Indianapolis or in Denver were able to do it. Tony Dungy always said it's in those moments where more than ever, it's about being on top of the basic fundamentals and techniques. It's not about doing something different or abandoning your strategy or what you do. It's about doing the little things right when the heat is on that gets you through those moments. I definitely found that to be true.

Additional reporting by Christina Tapper, Will Tidey, Paul Kaplan, Dan Pompei and Patricia Traina.

Jonathan Abrams is a senior writer for B/R Mag. A former staff writer at Grantland and sports reporter at the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Abrams is also the best-selling author of Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution. Follow him on Twitter: @jpdabrams

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