Dwyane Wade, who rallied the Miami Heat to their first NBA title with a transcendent performance on the league's biggest stage, has been named the 2006 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
Wade earned the award for his community work and record-setting romp through the playoffs punctuated by a tour de force in the NBA Finals, where he fueled the Heat's stunning turnaround from an 0-2 deficit against the Dallas Mavericks.
Already an All-Star guard and one of the game's young cornerstones, Wade made the leap to superstardom by averaging 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.7 steals in the Finals.
Wade was the Finals MVP, an improbable achievement considering the Heat faced a 2-0 deficit in the series and trailed 89-76 midway through the fourth quarter of Game 3. But Wade scored 12 of his 42 points during a game-ending 22-7 run as Miami stormed back to win 98-96, the first of its four consecutive victories. Wade's 157-point tear in those wins gave him another distinction: No player, in his first three seasons, had scored more postseason points.
In carrying a veteran-laden Heat team with a declining Shaquille O'Neal to the championship, Wade distinguished himself from his celebrated peers.
"He just went off the charts," former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, now a team consultant, tells senior writer S.L. Price in this week's Sports Illustrated, which hits newsstands Wednesday. "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 than he played.
"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 they 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 year, Dwyane was the lead guy. He led them to a championship."
Wade has also been a leader off the court. He has established the Dwyane Wade Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting social enrichment, education and physical fitness among youth. It assists young people in accomplishing their educational and athletic goals through mentoring.
Wade joins Bill Russell (1968), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1985), Michael Jordan (1991) and Tim Duncan and David Robinson (2003) as NBA players to win Sportsman of the Year since the award's inception in 1954 (Rory Sparrow also was chosen as one of eight Athletes Who Care in 1987). Wade, who turns 25 next month, is the youngest NBA winner.
HBO's Costas Now will feature Wade's selection and profile the year's top performers and newsmakers at 10 p.m. EST/PST Tuesday. Wade will receive the Sportsman award at a party in his honor Dec. 14 in New York.