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Sportsman of the Year: Dwyane Wade (cont.)

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By S.L. Price

Before moving in with his dad, Wade (above, at 9) had always been around women and preferred jump rope to jumpers.
Before moving in with his dad, Wade (above, at 9) had always been around women and preferred jump rope to jumpers.
Courtesy of Tragil Wade
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"He just went off the charts," says former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, now a consultant with the team. "Dwyane literally for six weeks played the game at a level that almost no one's ever played at. I don't know that Jordan ever played a better Finals. He's the best in the league right now, and the winning is what sets him apart from the other perimeter guys. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony are great and may eventually lead teams to championships. But the difference between Dwyane and Kobe is that when the Lakers won [three championships], Kobe had a huge part of it -- but Shaq was the lead guy. Last season Dwyane was the lead guy. He led them to a championship."

But it's not Wade's way to admit such a thing or concern himself -- even as he and his teammates hugged and danced after the Game 6 clincher -- with what any of it meant. For so long basketball had been his way to escape a legacy, not build one. "Thirteen points down with six minutes to go? That's not life or death," Wade says. "I've been through more than anybody knows. To me this is joy. This is when I can let it all out. This is my time."

So, yes, even as the ball plunged to the arena floor, sportswriters hit the keyboards, message boards hummed, talking heads babbled: The atmosphere of Sportsland was suddenly charged with a sense of revival. Wade had done it all again on this night -- 36 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals -- and would be named Finals MVP, but he'd also made winning a title as much about a franchise, a city, as himself. Who does that anymore? "I have my favorite players," says Denver Nuggets coach George Karl. "For a long time they were John Stockton, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan. Now my favorite player to watch on film is Dwyane Wade. He plays the game the right way.... His spirit, his presence is fun to watch. He doesn't cheat the game with emotion or negative energy. He's always visibly focused, disciplined and team."

Wade had spoken all season about winning a title for old-timers Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton, and now they had their rings. Coach Pat Riley, a onetime burnout case who hadn't won a championship in 18 years and had been vilified for replacing Van Gundy six weeks into the season, now stood vindicated. And a league that, in comparison with its glorious past, had been found wanting at last had the real deal: a throwback star with crossover cachet and 21st-century moves. For all that, not to mention the emotional vein tapped in South Florida's notoriously fractured populace, some 250,000 of whom would gather three days later for the team's victory rally in a resurging downtown Miami, Wade has been named SI's 2006 Sportsman of the Year.

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