As I watched Dwayne Wade nearly singlehandedly dismantle the Pistons (again) last night, I found myself really hoping he becomes the first of the new generation of NBA superstars to win a title.
It's nothing really against LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony or any of the other young stars in the league; it's just that Wade is the rarest of professional athletes: A guy you can cheer for and actually feel good about it.
It goes beyond the sickly acrobatic finishes, the dagger-like jumpers and spectacular defensive plays. (If you haven't seen the shot to the right in real-time, get yourself ESPN Motion and WATCH IT.) There's just something about the way he goes about his business -- both on and off the court -- that makes it so that you can't help but root for him.
Take, for example, his news conference interview last night after the game.
Question: "Coach Riley has said that he hasn't seen anyone quite like you, that you're very special. Shaq actually mentioned the Magic word. When you hear those things, how do you respond to that? Do you even believe it?"
Wade: "No, not really (laughing). I mean, I'm just a kid inside of me that loves to play the game of basketball, getting the opportunity to on the highest level, and I'm just trying to do my best job at it. Those guys, their names, Magic Johnson is a great player, I'm not even close to that. I've got to win a lot of championships to get there. I'm just a kid in a candy store right now trying to have one. We're one of the best teams in the NBA and I'm getting a chance to show my ability and my talent."
On and on, question after question, he smiled, deflected the spotlight, constantly deferred to his teammates. Not the kind of thing we're used to hearing from an NBA player who just polished off a 31-point, 6-rebound, 5-assist, 2-steal, 2-block night to take a 3-1 series lead against the defending conference champs.
However a game needs to be won, he does it. He can score, pass, rebound, defend ... and do it all with a flair and humility that makes you jump out of your seat and cheer -- not just because he's a spectacular basketball player, but because he's a spectacular human being as well.
That's what makes him so special. Whatever "it" is that great players seem to have, he's got "it." Say what you want about Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan or any of those other guys; outside of LeBron James, I'd take Wade every time.
Some of my favorite stories of the day:
- "Baseball's 10 Best 'Records' " by Jayson Stark (ESPN.com)
- "Bad calls by college athletes are stranger than fiction" by Bud Withers (Seattle Times)
- "RIP, Bad Boys II" by Scoop Jackson (ESPN.com)