If you go through the streets of Miami any sun-parched day of the week and tell those who partake in watching professional organized basketball, don't tell them that LeBron James belongs to the Miami Heat.
The chances are likely that you will get into an argument and you will have your face eaten.
All right, that won't happen. However, there is a stigma in one of the NBA's most flourishing markets surrounding this Heat team's ownership of James—a stigma that's thanks to Dwyane Wade. You could easily cite Wade's claim of "handing over the reins" of the team to James, but it makes no difference to a fanbase that has embraced Dwyane Wade basketball over nearly the past decade.
Wade is more to this city than just a basketball superstar—he is the city. The lack of success in the sporting community amongst the Dolphins, Hurricanes, Panthers and Marlins has caused a lot more eyes in Miami to be driven to the allure of Wade splitting double-teams, putting the team on his shoulders and willing them to victory—something that hasn't been too common in South Florida.
The city embraces him so because he brought the franchise its first title, but also because of how excellent of a leader he can be. From the moment he stepped onto the court for the first time in a Heat uniform, Wade emitted confidence, which led to him earning the final shot in Game 1 of the 2004 first round—a shot he drained without any hesitation.
His performance against Indiana in the next series only enraptured the Heat fanbase even more. Even though his Heat lost the series 4-2, most analysts had the Heat getting swept against the powerhouse Indiana Pacers, who were a championship contender at the time with MVP candidate Jermaine O'Neal. Once Wade dunked on him, however, Miami was hooked for life on Wade.
Heck, even when Shaquille O'Neal joined the squad the next season, it was Wade consuming the eyes of Miami. This only became magnified once he brought the franchise a championship following his incredible 36-point-per-game effort against a Dallas Mavericks team that already had a parade route. Nearly doing it all on his own, he made Dallas scrap those plans for another five years.
Although these were some of his best years, fans truly became loyalists to Wade once he returned from injuries and balled out of control in the 2008-09 season. It was his first legitimate shot at winning MVP, and the fans were full-on behind it, creating T-shirts and doing all they could to promote Dwyane's season to make it MVP-caliber.
However, with the media blinded by Kobe Bryant and LeBron James at the time, Wade finished third, although his fans never once backed down. He ended up having just as good a season as the year before, albeit sans scoring title.
Even with the first-round losses, the fanbase loved Dwyane, enough to the point that Dade County was turned into Wade County in order to keep him on the team, and he loved them back.
So, you can see why the Miami Heat community would be a tad skittish to allow LeBron James to be dubbed as the "leader" of the team, or even as the best to play.
However, winning a few titles could easily make fans change their heart.
They won't carry as much significance as that first title in '06, however. LeBron James may have finally shed off all of his personal demons by winning a title with the Heat, but he's still a stranger to the franchise compared to Wade. Dwyane was a first-round pick of Miami's in 2003 and led them to a title three years later. It's going to be tough to outdo that.
The most important thing to this franchise and its fanbase would be championships, obviously. Luckily for the Heat, LeBron plans on bringing a few of them with Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and company by his side. If the team can remain consistently healthy and stand the test of time, there's no reason why it shouldn't end up winning at least three titles over the next five years.
While Wade will be right there by James' side the entire time, he's probably not going to be the one winning league and Finals MVPs. No, that's going to be left for LeBron and LeBron only, because Wade allowed LeBron to be who he is. He didn't want them to take turns anymore. He wanted LeBron James to play in the best situation that would help bring the team a title.
Not enough credit was given to Wade for that decision, which is just another reason why he is so beloved in the tri-county area that makes up South Florida.
Without that decision being made, does LeBron have the same confidence he had in this year's playoffs? Is he attempting to force the issue to involve Wade against Boston, possibly avoiding that 45-15-5 stat line he posted as a result?
The beauty of this relationship is how well they work together. Not since Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal during their three-peat have you seen two players work together in perfect synchronization.
However, what makes the success of Wade and James so much more stupendous is the fact that they play extremely similarly. It's not Shaq posting up and Kobe hitting jumpers; it's LeBron and Dwyane both driving.
Somehow, someway, they found a way to make it work, and we're all better because of it.
James' ascension into this brand-new world of team success was spurred by Wade, as well as the numerous teammates who stepped up time and time again down the stretch. Only through his teammates will we see just how far LeBron can rise as one of the greatest to play the game, as well as the best to ever don a Heat uniform.
Coming from someone who has followed Dwyane Wade since his rookie season in Miami, it shouldn't hurt any loyalist to say that LeBron James is going to end up as the best player to ever play for the Heat, even if he will always be one piece of hardware behind in the championship department.
Because James is going to have something that Dwyane will probably end his career never holding: an MVP trophy.
And not just an MVP trophy, either—multiple MVP trophies won with the Heat. Last year was just the beginning of what we're going to see from LeBron. Because as much as we want to lay claim to his post game being the key factor in winning the title, it wasn't that great of a post game. He obviously knew how to pass out of it and draw the defense's attention, but his footwork was still lacking.
James has spent another offseason doing nothing but playing basketball. He played excellently against the best the world had to offer, and he's recently been working out alongside the second-best player in the NBA in Kevin Durant. Both players are getting better as a result, and that should mean more to Heat fans because James will always hold the advantage of being larger and stronger.
Durant, of course, has youth on his side, but we'll cross that bridge some time from now.
Nevertheless, James is the best player in the world right now and has no plans on relinquishing that title nor the title he won last year for the first time. LeBron worked incredibly hard and made a lot more sacrifices and adjustments he didn't expect to make for a chance at winning a title. It's more than likely that the trend of James pushing himself more and more will continue.
But by the time James ends his career with the Heat, he's going to walk away with multiple MVPs from the league and the NBA Finals, as well as a few more championship trophies and maybe even a Defensive Player of the Year award if he continues to flourish playing all five positions.
Wade will be there along for the ride, but he recognizes that by moving to the passenger seat, he has allowed LeBron James complete jurisdiction over the outlook of this team.
For titles and team glory, that's a chance Dwyane is willing to take.
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