By David Ramil
It usually takes more than just a handful of games to define a man’s legacy, unless that man is Dwyane Wade and you’re talking about the 2006 NBA Finals.
It was Wade’s third season in the NBA and in that short time the Miami Heat had undergone an incredible transformation.
In the historic 2003 NBA Draft, Heat president Pat Riley waffled between choosing a big man or taking the athletic Wade, considered too short for the off-guard position and not-quite-a-point-guard. Wisely, he selected Wade with the fifth overall pick. Later that summer, Riley fleeced the Los Angeles Clippers and signed restricted free agent Lamar Odom. With a young nucleus that also included Caron Butler, this team looked to be future contender in the making.
A brief but successful 2004 playoff run (led by Wade) showed Riley the Heat were closer to contention than previously suspected. With Wade as the cornerstone of the franchise, Riley traded away Odom, Butler and an aging Brian Grant to the Los Angeles Lakers for Shaquille O’Neal, instantly making Miami a legitimate title threat. O’Neal put up an MVP-type season in ’04-’05 and a Wade injury in the Eastern Conference Finals kept this team from advancing to face the San Antonio Spurs.
But they’d prevail the following season.
Riley was all-in that year, building a team around Wade and O’Neal that included Jason Williams, Antoine Walker and defensive stalwart James Posey. Hall-of-Famers Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning rounded out a deep supporting cast in Miami.
After clawing their way past the rival Detroit Pistons, Miami faced a Mavericks team that matched up very well with the Heat. Josh Howard was an athletic up-and-comer that would be able to harass Wade, Erick Dampier had the size to keep O’Neal from dominating and Dallas’ bench was pretty deep. And, of course, there’s always Dirk.
It seemed the Mavs had the definite advantage, taking the first two games of the series at home. Jason Terry’s hot shooting helped to a blow out in Game 1, while great games from Nowitzki and Jerry Stackhouse were the difference in Game 2. Wade was solid if unspectacular but the real issue for Miami was the ineffectiveness of O’Neal, who had scored just 17 points in Game 1 and followed it up with a 5-point outing, the worst of his playoff career at that point. If the Heat were going to have any chance, it would take a superstar performance.
And Wade delivered.
Game 3 followed the same script, with the Mavs holding a 13-point lead with just over 6 minutes left. But Wade started attacking the rim furiously, scoring at will or being rewarded with free throws. Miami would go on a 22-7 run, with Wade scoring 12 in that span and the Heat won, 98-96.
Game 4 featured a miserable performance by Nowtizki (who went just 2-of-14) and Wade again capitalized, scoring 36 (even hitting two 3-pointers) in a 98-74 blowout win for Miami.
The following game, of course, is what sticks out most for Mavs fans. Dallas played a balanced game, despite Nowitzki’s continuing struggles, and Terry once again led the team (logging 35 points). The Heat would squeak out a 1-point overtime win at home as Wade shot an NBA-record 25 free throw attempts (connecting on 21 of them), leading all scorers with 42 total points.
Had Dirk knocked down just one long-range shot (he went 0-4), Wade’s ignominious place in history wouldn’t have been a factor, much less made him a villain in the City of Dallas.
That’s not how it happened and Miami would have a chance to close out the series in Dallas. Wade would again make frequent trips to the charity stripe (21 times), leading angry Mavs to believe there was a conspiracy against their team and, specifically, owner Mark Cuban.
As a Heat fan, my opinion is naturally biased. However, and while Wade’s performances in Games 5 and 6 was efficient and his overall play throughout the series was phenomenal, I can distinctly remember thinking that Miami was the beneficiary of some pretty flimsy calls.
That said, I don’t care and any fan wouldn’t dare say otherwise if it could guarantee a championship for their favorite team.
Sports can be maddening, frustrating and transcendent. In the heat of a moment and with the opportunity to win a title, a fan will do anything to see their team win it all. It is temporary insanity at its finest and seeing Wade calmly knock down free throw after free throw was totally rewarding.
After Miam’s victory in Game 6, stories circulated about Pat Riley’s pre-game speech to the team. Although I’m sure much more was said, among the highlights was Riley telling them he had only packed, “One suit, one shirt, one tie,” meaning that he never thought a Game 7 would be necessary. It was prophetic and inspiring and one of the many aspects of that 2006 title run that was a great moment for Heat fans.
One of them being the fact that Wade – both the undeserving villain and the worthy hero – had become a champion.
Editor’s Note: David Ramil (@dramil13) is a contributor at Fansided’s All U Can Heat site and has also had his words published on SB Nation, The Cauldron and a number of other sites. He has followed Miami Heat basketball since Glen “G-Money” Rice – the original #41 – was winning the 3-point contest. From Alonzo Mourning to Dwyane Wade and even LeBron James, he’s seen it all.