Once upon a time, on an episode of the No Bull Just Ball Podcast, I compared Dwyane Wade’s career to that of Yankees’ icon, Derek Jeter. It drew the strangest of looks from my fellow commentators as well as questions of how in the world I came to that assessment. But in my head the comparison was easy:
- Like Jeter, Wade was arguably the greatest player in the history of his sport to never have his individual success honored with a season MVP award.
- Both had something of an enigmatic approach to their games; Wade’s relentless attack of the basket during the NBA’s transition to a perimeter oriented game, akin to Jeter’s opposite field contact swing in the MLB’s homer-fueled steroid era.
- Both guys’ greatest on the field/court rival was the entire city of Boston.
- Lebron was to Wade, what A-Rod was to Jeter; granted the former’s relationship was substantially less contentious.
- Their respective pedigrees ooze winning to the tune of a multitude of championships. (Each cementing their clutch-moment aptitude even further with a Finals/World Series MVP nod)
- Jordan-brand ties
- Pop culture relevance
Hell for every iconic Wade moment, Jeter has a counterpart:
- The dunk on Anderson Verajao; the lead-off homer against the Mets
- The alley-oop to Lebron; the cut-off flip to Posada
- The broadcast-table jump; the dive into the stands
- The buzzer beater in the final season; the walk-off hit in his last home game
- #OneLastDance; #RE2PECT
There are countless similarities between the two, and the more you dig the more you’ll find. Yet still today, the morning after Wade’s historic final game in Miami, I find myself bowing my head and acknowledging that I was truly wrong.
For all of those on-paper similarities, there’s a deeper level of knowledge and understanding that you have to take into account, and that is where the greatness of Dwyane Wade truly exists.
If you ask any well informed baseball fan, Derek Jeter needed the Yankees far more than the Yankees needed Derek Jeter. It pains me to say it, but if you remove Mr. November from the Bronx…those late 90s World Series championships probably do still happen. That’s not a knock against #2, it’s simply a testament to the rest of those impeccably built rosters. Given that same knowledge, if you supplant Jeter from New York and drop him in the Cincinnati Reds organization that most people expected to draft him back in 1992, his career definitely isn’t the same. Heck if you really look at the 5 teams that picked before the Bombers in 1992 (Astros, Indians, Expos, Orioles, Reds), had Jeter joined them his career arc instead becomes more comparable to Robin Yount. Still a Hall of Fame shortstop, with inarguable greatness exuding from the back of his baseball card, but seriously…how many of you knew who Robin Yount was?
Dwyane Wade is the Miami Heat. There’s no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. The Miami Heat do not get a single Larry O’Brien Trophy to hoist down Biscayne Boulevard if not for #3. There was a championship mystique and aura surrounding New York well before Jeter. That didn’t exist for the 1988 NBA expansion team in South Florida. They were a team who had sparingly competed through their first 15 campaigns, but done little in the way of actually contending on a consistent basis. If they don’t get D-Wade with the fifth pick in 2003, this is an absurdly different conversation we’re having. But on the flip-side, if Dwyane Wade gets selected by any of the teams who picked before the Heat (spare the lowly Cavs who Lebron couldn’t even save in his first go around), he’s probably still a champion at some point. Seriously, if the Pistons take him he wins the title with that roster in 2004 (as they did) and becomes the integral part of their longterm future that Darko Milicic never was as the second pick of 2003. If he goes in Melo’s spot to the Nuggets with the third pick, he probably has to wait a little longer but his high octane offense and impact defense would’ve played exceptionally well in the Mile High City under Hall of Fame caliber coach George Karl and made for even more incredible match ups with Kobe. Let him take Chris Bosh’s place as the fourth pick to the Raptors and he instantly reignites Air Canada alongside Vince Carter, who probably wouldn’t want to leave anymore and the Raptors could’ve built around that tandem for years to come.
The Wade-Miami union goes well beyond on-court success. He became the city’s greatest athlete ever, save perhaps Dan Marino. But Wade’s community impact is perhaps the most integral part of his legacy. A kid born just outside of Chicago gets adopted by a city with no real sports history or rich traditions, and he gives them one of the single greatest careers anyone has ever had. Despite his brief leave of absence to play with his hometown Bulls and re-up with Lebron in Cleveland, it feels as though Wade has always been a part of the Miami community. It’s Wade county, and the hope he provided that city has been immense time and time again. In the wake of the Parkland shooting in 2018, one of the most emotional stories comes via a 17 year old victim wearing Wade’s iconic jersey as he is laid to rest; a sign of the unwavering and everlasting bond that the future Hall of Famer has with the city and its people.
Some of the most iconic names in the sport of baseball have dawned the Yankee pinstripes throughout history. Many of whom, were their generation’s Derek Jeter. Even now we see the likes of Aaron Judge blazing a new trail as the foundational piece of the next New York dynasty. Yet there has never before been a Dwyane Wade in Miami, and there may well never again be another.
His career, incredible.
His spirit, invincible.
His impact, incomparable.