Wade also took a bone-jarring fall on a flagrant foul from center Spencer Hawes in the fourth quarter, which brought back memories of the nasty landings he has taken in previous years and the string of injuries they caused. He missed 31 games in each of the past two seasons with knee and shoulder problems, and he heard the whispers that he might be the next Penny Hardaway or Steve Francis—stars who went into early decline because their bodies didn't hold up. But eight weeks of grueling workouts in his hometown of Chicago at Attack Athletics, the training facility owned by Tim Grover, best known for training Michael Jordan, had Wade in what he considers to be the best shape of his life by the time he played in the Olympics last summer. He has also honed his midrange jump shot to reduce the number of times he puts his body at risk on slashes to the rim.
"It seems like I've been playing for the last eight months straight, and I feel just as good as I did at the beginning," he says. "I'm not worried about getting tired or getting hurt. I'll play as many minutes as Spo wants me to. I'm just enjoying the good health. Sometimes you don't realize how much you'll miss something until it's gone."
Perhaps that's why Wade has handled Miami's transition from champion to a team that's fighting to make the playoffs (through Sunday, the Heat had the sixth-best record in the East) with such equanimity. He shows none of the frustration Bryant felt with the Lakers two summers ago, when he agitated for a trade to escape his weak supporting cast. Nor is Wade coyly feeding speculation about his plans when he becomes a free agent in 2010, as James has done. "This is fun," he says. "I like what we're building here. A few more pieces and we can get back to where this organization used to be." The Heat needs those pieces to emerge quickly, whether it's through the development of players like Beasley or through dipping into free agency. While Wade enjoys playing different instruments now, that doesn't mean he'll always want to be a one-man band.