By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Hmm, let's see. How shall I put this? Delicately? Politically correct? Or, better yet, just say it like it needs to be said:
Dwyane Wade, shut the fuck up!
Since karma is indeed a basketball junkie, the Miami Heat guard with the misplaced "y" in his name and the misguided venom in his personality will come to American Airlines Center Thursday night and get his ass kicked by Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks, better known as the NBA's best player and the NBA's best team. And after what he said recently, and what he got away with last summer, Wade should immediately replace Celso Martinez as Dallas' public enemy No. 1.
"Dirk says they gave us the championship last year, but he's the reason they lost the championship," Wade said after a recent practice in Cleveland, "because he wasn't the leader that he's supposed to be in the closing moments. That's because of great defense by us, but also he wasn't assertive enough as a leader's supposed to be."
Given a chance at last weekend's All-Star game to retract or at least soften his attack, Wade instead referred to Dirk as "Nowinski" and said with a shrug, "Hey, I'm just defending my team."
What, no unflattering comparisons to Volkswagens, cheap shots about Nazis or lame-ass one-liners regarding David Hasselhoff? Sorry Dwyane, but our subtle superstar isn't about to go off crazier than Tim Hardaway.
"We're not going to go back and forth," Nowitzki said. "I don't really know why he said those things."
Allow me to fashion a guess: Because while Dirk has matured into the league's Most Valuable Player, Wade has morphed into the sport's Most Vexing Punk.
You remember Dwyane, right?
He's the guy who wants you to believe he plays with a severe case of I-barely-care, struggling to keep his droopy eyelids open as if to say, "Man I'm bored, but I can beat you sleepwalking." He's the guy who somehow gets away with palming violations on every single crossover dribble move. He's the disingenuous guy who will miss a shot then fall down—untouched, mind you—feigning pain to draw a foul, then lethargically saunter to the free-throw line without 'fessing up to his weaselly ploy. He's the guy who's not half the standup guy of John Amaechi. He's the guy who can't ego himself into Charles Barkley's cell-phone "Fave Five," prompting exactly none of us to wonder why.
What's to despise about D-Wade? Everything. The spelling of his name which, teamed with wife Siohvaughn (no, I'm not making that up), makes you wish he'd quit basketball and take up Scrabble. His "get knocked down...get back up" commercials that he caresses as half mantra/half self-fulfilling prophecy. Only 25, he has more faux dramatic comebacks than Rocky. The dude is sic, but also sick. Just watch, Thursday night he'll go down with a bad knee or finger boo-boo or tummy ache from a bad batch of peanut butter, only to miraculously heal himself in time to shoot the endless parade of free throws. During last summer's NBA Finals, he actually—I swear—showed up to a news conference carrying a box of tissues to emphasize the severity of his sniffles. Vomit.
Let's admit it—we started hating Wade because of how he ruined our summer. In Game 4 of The Finals he scored 42 stinkin' points. In Game 5 he shot as many free throws (25) as the Mavericks. In Game 6 he clanked the last two of his 21 charity attempts in the final 10 seconds, allowing Jason Terry a clean look at a 3-pointer that would've forced overtime and inevitably prompted a Game 7 the Mavs surely would've won.
But now, after his incredibly inane dig at Dirk, we have new fuel for our fury. Sports Illustrated's classless "Sportsman of the Year" is again taking shots at Dallas.
"We don't talk about guys like that," says Mavs coach Avery Johnson. "We have more respect than that for our opponents. But it's his opinion. When you win, I guess you can say whatever you want."
After Thursday's loss, the Heat, which lost at home to Dallas last month, won't be winning at all. They'll be below .500. They've had players benched for being fat. Shaquille O'Neal called the team "embarrassing" in his absence, while Wade was de facto leader. Now Shaq is back and coach Pat Riley is back and...yawn..."15 strong," my ass.
There aren't many teams—save the hapless Boston Celtics—the Mavs would rather face in The NBA Finals.
"Hopefully," Dirk grumbles, "we'll get a rematch."
Bring. It. On.
While the Heat have been busy proving that Games 3-6 last June were an inexplicable fluke, the Mavs have shut up and put up. Coming out of the All-Star break they'll become the first team in NBA history to produce three 10-game winning streaks in the same season. Since December 11 they are 30-2, and since an 0-4 start they're an unfathomable 44-5.
The Mavs have been so good for so long we've forgotten about premature parade plans, bad basketballs, Don Nelson and, at least temporarily, Mark Cuban. At this point the only concern is that they're peaking too early.