The Exclusive D-Wade Q&A: On Why 'Last Year Wasn't Fun' and Life After LeBron

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterOctober 3, 2014

Bleacher Report

MIAMI — So, how many teammates? How many players have shared the same Miami Heat colors during the 11 regular seasons, 10 postseasons and five NBA Finals that Dwyane Wade has represented the franchise, earning the right to hashtag himself #HeatLifer? As he's played 871 regular-season and postseason games, scored 20,962 regular-season and postseason points, made 10 All-Star appearances, won three championships and earned the ultimate local tribute, with "Wade County" bumper stickers visible well beyond Dade's borders?

Wade scrolled through the deep, dark recesses of his memory, where the likes of Kirk Penney and Jerome Beasley, as well as Loren and Qyntel Woods, may still reside.

"I'll say..." Wade began. "I'll say...seventy-three!"

Ninety-one, actually.

So, naturally, he can name them all.

"No, man," he said, laughing.

Soon, that number will hit an even 100, since there will be eight or nine new teammates on the opening night roster, an Oct. 29 date with the Washington Wizards. It's a testament to his longevity, as well as that of Udonis Haslem, the one teammate who has been at his side for the entire ride.

Of course, everyone only wants to hear how he feels about one of those 91 teammates. The one who wore No. 6 for the past four seasons and now wears No. 23 in Cleveland. The one who embraced Wade after they shared a cross-country flight from Las Vegas in July before calling a few hours later to confirm a strong suspicion: He was headed home.

The one who, contrary to Internet rumors, attended Wade's recent wedding to actress Gabrielle Union, even reposting Wade's Instagram photo that proved they had enjoyed the event together. The one who, at media day in Independence, Ohio, last Friday, insisted that Wade would remain among his closest circle of NBA friends, along with Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, regardless of what team they toiled for.

Let's start with that single former teammate, LeBron James, even though Wade's wide-ranging Bleacher Report interview covered considerable ground before touching on that topic.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 17:  Actress Gabrielle Union (L) and NBA player Dwyane Wade attend The 2013 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for ESPY)
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Surely, Wade understands that NBA observers will obsess about his relationship with James until each retires, and undoubtedly beyond. That everyone will study their every interaction, in this country and abroad, with the Heat and Cavaliers even cleverly scheduled to spend time in Brazil together next week.

So how will he handle that?

"I don't know," Wade said.

Yet he clearly does.

"I mean, I just go back to before we ever played together," Wade said. "And I go back to the conversations and the media reports of, 'How can you be friends with a guy and play against a guy? They didn't do that back in the day. Magic [Johnson] and [Larry] Bird never did that.' Me and LeBron, I'd go to Cleveland, we'd go to the movies. He'd come here, we'd hang out. And then we'd go on the court and we'd compete. And then after the game, that's my boy. Then we got here, we teamed up, became even closer. And now it's the same thing.

"You know, we're still gonna be friends, and we're still gonna compete our asses off. Until the day we can't compete no more."

When is that day coming for Dwyane Wade?

Contrary to what the critics may suggest, he still doesn't believe it's soon.

Welcome to Chapter Five.

Chapter One was a breezy read: a dynamic rookie point guard taking the reins of a fast, fun team, featuring Caron Butler and Lamar Odom, that everyone thought would stay together longer than a single season.

DALLAS - JUNE 20:  Dwyane Wade #3 and Shaquille O'Neal #32 of the Miami Heat celebrate with the Larry O'Brien Championship trophy after their Game Six victory of the 2006 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks on June 20, 2006 at American Airlines Center
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Chapter Two was in Shaq-sized type, and it was quite the romp until just about everybody in the Heat organization was ready to turn the page.

Chapter Three was about redemption, and ultimately frustration, as the protagonist—at the peak of his powershad far too little help from his friends.

Chapter Four was one of the greatest NBA tales ever told, about four unforgettable years in which the Big Three made the Heat the most scrutinized squad, and most spectacular show, in sports.

"Yup," Wade said, with another smile.

So what does he want this fifth chapter, one he looks at as "the last chapter," to be about?

"I want to enjoy the game," Wade said.

That sounds so simple, especially for someone who has given so much to, and gotten so much from, the sport.

But it hasn't been.

Not always.

Not lately.

And when it isn't, he says it's hard to come to work, hard to want to improve.

"It was great, you know, we went to the Finals four years in a row, and it was everything we wanted from that standpoint, but sometimes throughout that run, at certain times, it just wasn't fun," Wade said. "Individually, it was great having certain relationships and having my best friend here with me, but all of us didn't have fun all the time.

"I think now I'm at the point where I want to enjoy the game. Because once I've won three championships and been so successful, you've got to have something to play for. And I want to be able to play for my teammates and just the joy of the game."

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

He understands that no team, even a title team, has fun all the time. Nor was he the first Heat player to allude to the absence of enjoyment last seasonChris Bosh and Shane Battier expressed that emphatically in public, while other Heat players frequently did so in private.

Wade just hasn't been quite this direct before.

Why wasn't it fun?

The outsized attention? The relentless pressure?

"I don't know," Wade said. "It's hard to say, man, because you want it. We wanted it. So it's hard to say that. You don't know exactly what's going to come with it, but we put ourselves in that position. But sometimes you can put too much on yourself, all of us, and it becomes a black cloud around. Last year wasn't fun. I mean, there was no stretch of it [that was] fun. That whole season, to me, it's amazing we made it to the Finals. It's just honest.

"Just this year, coming in, I can see, even in the coaches, there's just a different renewed focus and energy. No one knows what it's going to lead to. No one knows if that's going to lead to a Finals win or Finals loss or not the Finals at all. But right now it's good for everyone to come in every day and want to be here."

Bosh and Mario Chalmers, among the six Heat holdovers from last season, have expressed the same sort of sentiments. They have spoken of feeling refreshed, re-energized. They say those statements are not intended as shots at James, even if that's how some pot-stirrers may choose to interpret them.

Wade doesn't intend them that way either, even if many fans assume he should be angry, because he opted out of his contract to create greater flexibility for Pat Riley to reload around the Big Three, only for James to bolt and Wade to re-sign for the same two years he had left on his deal and roughly $11 million less.

Rather, when he speaks of renewed enthusiasm, he's referring specifically to the opportunity that comes from altered, even tapered expectations, and increased opportunities.

BROOKLYN, NY - MAY 12: LeBron James #6, Dwyane Wade #3 and Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat celebrate after Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Brooklyn Nets on May 12, 2014 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. NOTE TO USER: User expressl
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images


"Yeah, you're right," Wade said. "And what that is, who knows? But I think once you get into a situation that we were in, even the guys who left, even the guys who are not here, they have something they want to prove to themselves as well. I think, individually, you sacrifice so much of your game, you want to see if you can do some of the things that are called upon you to do, when called upon.

"It's not saying, 'Oh, I'm excited this person left so I can do that.' It's more, 'OK, it's a challenge,' and as athletes we not only love challenges, but we need them. Especially if we want to continue to rise.

"Like I said, I wouldn't take anything back. Even though there were a lot of moments where everyone wasn't happy, I wouldn't take the success back that we had in our four years. It's just that now, I think it's great that everything happens for a reasonand I think right now for this organization and certain individuals that [are] here, it's just a good time for it."

It's never been a bad time to challenge Wade, not if you want to bring the best out of him. He's been fueled by setbacks and skeptics and slights throughout his career, always getting up after the gameby way of defeat or injuryhad knocked him down, relishing the chance to remind detractors why, as the slogan goes, his belief is stronger than their doubt.

And yes, the doubts are mounting now. Doubts that his knees can handle heavy pounding, after he's missed 58 games over the past three seasons. Doubts that, pushing 33 and absent James' otherworldly assistance, he can carry more of the offense while encountering greater defensive attention. Doubts that he can consistently exceed his output from the NBA Finals against the Spurs, when he produced just 15.2 points per game and shot 43.8 percent from the floor.

Doubts that all of his best days aren't done.

So, when asked what he still wants to prove, he touched on a familiar, favorite topic.

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 13:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat falls to the court with an injury in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on January 13, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. Wade left the game after the injury as the Nuggets d
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

"For one, overcoming, man," Wade said. "Just proving that I can overcome adversity, which I've done my whole life. And every time that something else hit me, finding a way to overcome it. I mean, I'm not only teaching lessons on the basketball court, I'm teaching life lessons. I'm a father. I'm teaching lessons to my boys, life lessons of overcoming. Even when things look so good, there are things that happen in life that can bring you down in the blink of an eye. And how do you respond?"

And sure, there's something left in terms of basketball legacy, too...

"I want to continue to add to being one of the best players at my position in the game," Wade said. "I've been put in the category of great players, and I want to hold up to that, whatever that is. But I want to be able to showcase it for as long as God allows me to."

He's done it for 11 seasons, enough to earn widespread acclaim among the top five 2-guards of all time, spoken in the breaths right after Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

But what about now? What about his peers? How long can he hold the youngest, hungriest of them back? Suddenly, after a long drought, there's a new crop at the spot, from James Harden to Bradley Beal to Klay Thompson to Lance Stephenson to DeMar DeRozan. All are at least six years younger, with fewer scars, far less wear.

When Wade is physically right, are any better?

"No," Wade said. "When I'm right, there are players at my position that are probably more athletic than me. There are players at my position that can probably shoot threes better than me. That can do individual things. But when I'm right, overall, just like I've been the last few years, I mean, I can be a dynamic player.

"It's unfortunate that, consistently, that last couple years, I haven't been able to be that. But I'm not going to stop working to get there. I'm going to put all my efforts toward doing it. Because the moments where I feel, 'Oh, it feels so right,' it feels so good."

It doesn't take long to summon one such occasion, because it wasn't that long ago.

MIAMI, FL - MAY 30: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat drives against the Indiana Pacers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on May 30, 2014 in Miami, Fl. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by do
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

"There was a moment in the Eastern Conference Finals where I was just feeling it," Wade said. "Oh man, I was like, 'This is me right now, this is what I feel.' And then, you know, the Finals, I didn't feel the same. But just moments like that let you know that it's still there, and you have the capability of just being dominant."

He averaged 19.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals in the six-game series against the Indiana Pacers, while shooting 54.5 percent from the floor. Those numbers were right in line with those he posted in the regular season, his most efficient as a pro, even as his shots and games were down.

Wade doesn't know where the feeling went in the NBA Finals.

"Maybe it was the Spurs and the way they played," Wade said. "I mean, they f-----g ran circles around us. We weren't in the same groove that we were in the series before, I couldn't get in a groove. And then, how our team was built, once certain guys weren't in a groove, then it went to just straight one-on-one. And I can't play that way. Once I get out of my groove, and then I've got to sit and wait, I'm not getting back in mine. So, obviously, you're affected that way. And then, defensively (for us), they were moving...man! So it was unfortunate. But like I said, the series before that, I felt that I was hitting that stride that I want to be in."

He can't know for sure when he'll hit that stride this season.

Nor can he say with certainty how many games he'll playonly that he believes it will be a "a lot more" than in 2013-14.

"Obviously, we're not going with the plan that we had last year, and last year we went with, 'OK, take back-to-backs off,'" Wade said.

That plan was designed to take the burden off his chronically sore knees. Still, it was never the idea to play just 54 games...until a strained hamstring sidelined him for nine, just prior to the playoffs.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat is defended by Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs during Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

"[Now] it's reported that I want to play all 82," Wade said. "I said, 'My goal is to be available every day, and every night, and let coach and let the season and all that, predict the way it's gonna go.' But my focus is that every day, whether I'm feeling amazing or not, I want to come up here and practice and be available for my teammates. Give them what I'm able to give them that day, and so forth. That's the mindset I have.

"Last year was different. The mindset I had was, OK, I know I'm playing tonight, but I ain't playing tomorrow. And it was a different kind of a mindset for me, and I don't want to have that mindset."

He can't, if the Heat have any chance to contend in an improved Southeast Division, let alone the Eastern Conference. Projected to win 60 games or more during the length of James' Heat tenure, the bookmakers put the present number closer to 43, which would tie for the third-worst season of Wade's career.

The dampened external expectations have given Heat fans an identity to rally around, an us-against-the-world feeling that's somewhat different than what they've been carrying for four years. Now, it's not because the team lured James from his rightful place in Ohio. It's because so many assume the organization and its fans will be irrelevant without James. And so, those fans have pulled Wade tighter, with roadside billboards, Internet tributes and, at Wednesday's "Red, White and Pink" scrimmage, a lusty MVP chant while he was at the foul line.

Maybe he never lost the market to James.

But now, does it seems as if it's his, alone, forever?

"No," he said, laughing. "Not really. I do feel that, obviously, just like Tim [Hardaway] and [Alonzo Mourning] before me, when a new guy comes in..."

He paused, pondered.

"When I came in, I took the city's heart," Wade said. "I had their heart, and they loved it. And then LeBron came in. He was a dynamic player at that time, [and we were] arguably the best players in the game when we teamed up. And then he became the best player here, in the game. And it's like when you come home and you've got something new, you go to it, and you love it. And then eventually, you kind of go with what you're comfortable with. So I'm just what everyone's comfortable with."

He laughed again.

Alan Diaz/Associated Press

"I understand how it is. I do appreciate the love and support. And especially now, I feel it. Whenever I drive down the street. [On Tuesday] I was driving in, and there were about seven accidents almost, because people were trying to take pictures of me driving in on the expressway. It's a pride for the city. And obviously, I feel great about that. But also I feel a great responsibility for that as well.

"I've got a responsibility to being that leader and the person that has been here, and has been able to lead this franchise to success. In different facets of my career. In different ways, since I've been here."

This will be different again, this fifth chapter, this post-LeBron chapter.

And yet, they will always be linked.

The games will be chronicled, for sure. But so will the quotes. The greetings, whether they exchange a hug or a handshake. The glances. And, if the competition gets really heated, even the glares. Especially the glares. Even if no glare was truly there.

"I don't think it's ever gonna be the right thing for the media," Wade said. "I think everyone wants to make a story out of it. We both simply said that we're genuinely friends. Whether we are playing together or not, we're friends. Me and Chris [Bosh], we all have our certain friends, no matter what the game of basketball brings or doesn't bring. Those are friends beyond.

"People are gonna try to make it something. But we're not really worried about it. We know what we have, who we are. We've never let it get in between our friendship. Even when we played together, when they tried to come in between us, we didn't let it come in between us. And now that we're apart, it's not gonna happen either."

Even as the speculation keeps coming. And coming.

"Before," he said. "Together. Now, after."


"It's gonna be that way," he added, "but that's OK."

Ethan Skolnick covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @EthanJSkolnick.


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