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Sportsman of the Year: Dwyane Wade

Is there an athlete with more positive energy than the 24-year-old guard? He pulled the Heat out of a deep playoff hole, helped put the shine back on a tarnished league and lifted his mom out of her own personal hell

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Sportsman of the Year 2006, Dwyane Wade.
Sportsman of the Year 2006, Dwyane Wade.
Walter Iooss Jr.

By S.L. Price

He hurled the ball high into the air, and it spun up and away and forgotten, the object that just moments before had been the most important thing in the building. Dwyane Wade began screaming. The clock ticked to zero, the horn sounded: But he knew already. He had known before anyone else in the arena that it was over, that his Miami Heat had come back yet again and won the 2006 NBA championship, that on this June night in Dallas he had, at 24, risen above his preordained peers to clutch the only prize that matters. The rest, though? He knew almost none of that.

Above Wade, above the American Airlines Center floor where the Mavericks and their shocked fans were edging toward the doors, the ball reached its peak, hovered an instant, started its fall. Already, the hierarchy of the basketball universe had been reshuffled, Wade's place in the game elevated and informed by long ago names and games. Time and again during these playoffs he pulled off heroics that echoed one basketball legend after another. Make room at the table, John Havlicek and Larry Bird: Wade stole New Jersey's final inbounds pass with nine tenths of a second left in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to send the Nets packing. Move over, Willis Reed: Wade did you one better, marching dramatically onto the court in the second half of a vital opening-round Game 5 against Chicago after suffering a hip contusion, then, four weeks later, checking out of a hospital after a night of vomiting caused by a sinus infection to carry the Heat in the series-sealing Game 6 of the conference finals against Detroit.

Yet, the most resounding echo of all, naturally, came at the end. It was Wade who led Miami, down 0-2 in the Finals and about to be buried, out of a 13-point hole with 6:15 to play in Game 3. It was Wade who wound up with 15 points in the fourth quarter, 42 overall, Wade who stole Dirk Nowitzki's inbounds pass with three tenths of a second left to put a boot to the Mavericks' throat. In the Heat sweep to follow, the Chicago-born, Jordan-worshipping Wade made it safe, for perhaps the first time since number 23 retired, to compare a guard with Michael and not risk embarrassment. At every pivotal point in Miami's oddly flawed playoff run, Wade had lifted his play to a personal high. But in those final four games -- with every Dallas player, coach and fan keying on him -- he punctuated a rise unlike any the league has seen, averaging 39.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals. No other player, in his first three NBA seasons, has scored more postseason points. No other player has come close.


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