I couldn’t decide on a lead-in to this story, so I’m going to write a few of them. This is your chance to be eleven years old again and choose your own adventure. Don’t act like you’re not excited.
My suggestion: Cheat and read them all.
Tonight, the whimpering and often times defenseless Lakers will be in Miami for a match up with D-Wade and the struggling Heat.
We all know the Lakers are sporting a nice, shiny 21-3 record as they head into Miami tonight. Do not be deceived. The Lakers are a lot like that really hot girl you see from about fifty feet away. The closer she gets, the easier it is to notice that she’s putting up more facades than a studio back lot. That Mercedes she’s driving? It’s her Dad’s. Her un-worldly physique? Hours and hours of surgery. That smile? $20k. When it comes to women, outward appearances really don’t hold much weight. When it comes to the Lakers, the same is also true.
We don’t know a whole lot about the character of this Lakers’ team yet. With all due respect to the Knicks, we haven’t been tested. Even so, there is still some intriguing grumbling going on behind the scenes. Andrew Bynum plays the pick and roll defensively like a tanned, mustache-less Adam Morrison. Yet, he likes to use the media to jab Phil Jackson for not having him in the game at crunch time. Kobe Bryant hasn’t been, well, Kobe Bryant yet. Jordan Farmar and Derek Fisher have combined to stop only the Lakers girl from getting in the lane. Our defensive rotations have worked about as well as Bush’s first stimulus plan.
In Miami, D-Wade is back. Unfortunately for the Heat, everyone else appears to be in the off season. Highly touted rookie Michael Beasley enjoyed some early success, but has struggled in the last ten games. Shawn Marion has been relatively anonymous since he was traded to the Heat last season. Miami is coming off three relatively embarrassing losses, the latest of which was a fifteen point setback at home to the Milwaukee Bucks.
As D-Wade goes, so go the Miami Heat. With the Lakers defensive struggles, D-Wade just may be enough to grab a win for Miami tonight. Either way, it will be a lot closer than their records may suggest.
Tonight, Jason Riley and Kobe Bryant soar into Miami for a battle with James Brown and Dwayne Wade. Ex-Roomies clash, next on ESPN.
On the court, Brown & I have a friendly rivalry. We used to have one on one wars almost every day of the week. All-time, we both probably have records around 853-853. Yes, we may have played that many games. I couldn’t stop Brown from pummeling me in the paint, and he couldn’t stop me from knocking down a pull-up jumper. Whoever got hot on the day we were playing always won. Games were usually close, although there was one miserable game where Brown won without moving. He hit six straight three’s from the top of the key and won, 12-0. What a terrible day.
Off the court, James and I agree on almost all things basketball. I’m a huge Lakers fan, but I also root for Miami in the East. James is a huge Heat fan, but sometimes roots for the Lakers in the West. All of that goes out the window when they play each other. In years passed, we were forced to initiate a twenty-four hour no-contact rule for all Heat vs Lakers games. That decision was unanimously passed by our two member board after my child-like Christmas-Day outburst that even Kayne West would be proud of.
You see, for three straight years, Shaq and the Miami Heat ruined my Christmas. Watching Shaq parade around in a Heat jersey on Christmas Day was like watching your ex-girlfriend make out with Brad Pitt. He had scorned the Lakers, trashed my favorite player (Kobe) and made a point of rubbing it in my face every single Christmas. Him and his new sidekick (Dwayne Wade) were hot and Mr. Bryant was left sidekick-less, settling to score seven thousand points a game to make up for his loss.
A lot has changed since then. Shaq has morphed into a cactus, Kobe picked up a sidekick (or two) and D-Wade lost his. Brown moved to Mexico then to Albuquerque. I moved to Maryland then to Los Angeles. Tonight, we get to dust off the old rivalry. A lot has changed for both rosters, but it’s still D-Wade vs. Kobe, J-Ri vs. Brown. Thank God the game’s not on Christmas.
Tonight, the two best players in the world, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade, will be sharing the same floor for the first time since winning a Gold Medal in Beijing, coming up next on ESPN.
I know what you’re thinking. What about Lebron James? The King? The heir to the NBA throne? I haven’t forgot about him. I mean, how could I? Every sports writer from Los Angeles to Beijing worships him as though he plays basketball to feed starving children in Africa. I’m surprised he doesn’t wear a cape with his jersey. Don’t get me wrong, Lebron is a great player. Further, he will most likely become the best player in the world. Right now, he’s the third best player in the NBA.
Yes, I said third. And, contrary to what you’re probably thinking, I’m not here to make an argument that Kobe is better than Lebron. That argument has already been decided. I’m here to emphatically state that a fully healthy Dwayne Wade is better than Lebron James. The problem with sports fans (myself included) is that we tend to have a very short-term memory. Players, in our minds, are usually only as good as their latest performance. This explains why guys like Lamar Odom, Luol Deng, Jerome James and Ben Wallace make loads of money. All of those guys got paid after piecing together career seasons, and none of them have even come close to repeating those years.
Let’s travel back to 2006. On the season, Dwayne Wade shot right at a sizzling 50% from the floor. He averaged just about 28 points, dropped almost 7 assists and pulled down just under 6 rebounds. He also was in the top five in the league in steals, averaging just over 2 per game. He was playing with an aging Shaq who was mostly a shadow of his former self, especially in the playoffs. The third best player on that team was Jason Williams, who spent most of the year in and out of the lineup with injuries. Somehow, D-Wade put everyone on his back and carried them all the way through the playoffs. In the end, he single-handedly broke into the NBA’s jewelry store and stole every one of his teammates a ring. During the NBA Finals, Wade averaged 35 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists on his way to earning the Finals MVP Award. We haven’t seen numbers like that since a guy named Michael Jordan destroyed Phoenix in 1993.
The next thing you know, the basketball world was in love with Dwayne Wade. He had a slew of commercials, a new clothes line and more face-time in the media than Britney Spears. He was the darling of the NBA, the heir to the throne of basketball and the most popular player on planet earth (Sound familiar?). Does anybody remember this? While Wade was nursing his injuries back to life, the media replaced him with a new King. They forgot about his dominance in the clutch, his spectacular highlights, his NBA Finals MVP award and most importantly, his NBA Championship ring.
Lost in the endless reels of LeBron James highlights, I must point out that he hasn’t won anything yet. No NBA Championships. No Finals MVP’s, or any MVP’s for that matter. Outside of the couple of clutch moments against Detroit and Washington in the Playoffs, he hasn’t separated himself into that bracket of great clutch players yet. Dwayne Wade and LeBron James were in the same draft class. To this point in their careers, Dwayne Wade has been, and continues to be, a more valuable player than King James.
Memo to those who may have blinked and forgotten about Mr. Wade: He’s back. This season, he’s putting up similar numbers as the year he carried Miami to an NBA Title. His team is hovering around .500 while starting two rookies and battling with injuries. He was arguably the best player in Beijing this summer. While Kobe was the unanimous choice to have the ball in the closing minutes, Wade certainly kept them afloat the rest of the game. Where was LeBron? Exactly where he should have been, being the third option behind Bryant and Wade. The future may tell a different story, but as the present goes, I’d take Wade over LeBron every single time.
I just hope he can’t buy a shot tonight.
Lakers (21-3), Heat (12-12), 8pm ET on ESPN.