MIAMI – After Spain had made a frantic comeback within two points of
the United States, there came a telling moment in a fourth-quarter
timeout. All hell breaking loose in the gold-medal game, Team USA was
finally getting a fight in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. And from coaches
to players, they could see LeBron James eyes darting everywhere, his teeth grinding his finger nails. He wasn’t present, but lost in the magnitude of the moment.
One source called him “completely disengaged,” and this wasn’t a minority sentiment. As it turned out, Dwyane Wade
played an immense part in bailing out James in the game’s final eight
minutes, securing a gold-medal victory and sparing Team USA a loss that
would’ve resonated far beyond, far longer, than these Miami Heat losing to the Dallas Mavericks.
This doesn’t happen every time James faces pressure, but it’s
happened in the Olympics, the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals and
it’s happened late in this NBA championship series.
Sometimes, James snaps out of it. Sometimes, he doesn’t. James
doesn’t need more outside conflict, more distractions, and yet Wade
dragged him into a beauty with the mocking video of them imitating Dirk
Wade introduced James into this
foolery, but his running buddy gleefully entered the fray. Wade made it
worse on Saturday, when he concocted the kind of cop-out he was tacitly
charging Nowitzki with selling after a Game 4 victory.
Come out and say, yes, we were mocking him and so what? Or say, hey,
it wasn’t our best moment and we regret it. Anything, but what Wade did
on the eve of Game 6.
For Wade to call his an honest cough that evolved into a mugging for
the cameras, because, “we knew you guys would blow it up,” is worse than
the act itself. Wade couldn’t be more disingenuous on this matter, nor
could the Heat deserve less sympathy for the treatment they consider so
Wade knew that video had gone viral, knew that question was coming,
and somehow still tried to sell pure garbage. For the Heat’s sake,
trailing 2-3 to Dallas in these NBA Finals, you’d hope he’ll prepare
better for Game 6 than he did that self-inspired debacle.
The Heat can accuse the Mavericks of talking trash, but Wade and James understand this: Dallas’ stars, Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, hadn’t spoken a disparaging word, and never would.
Still, the biggest reason that they were so emboldened to mock
Nowitzki is Dirk is an NBA star belonging to a growing minority within
the league, and it has nothing to do with European roots, the way those
players get openly mocked and ridiculed as soft, unworthy of franchise
Increasingly, there are two NBAs: the LeBron-CAA NBA, and everyone else.
James has been a part of recruiting everyone else over to his side – Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul. And now, the New Jersey Nets’ Deron Williams
is strongly considering joining up with CAA after firing his longtime
agent. Within the NBA, this surprised people because Williams had always
been so fiercely independent. He never star-gazed James like most of
his young teammates, and never seemed inclined to follow.
“LeBron has almost become a movement within the league,” says a
league executive who’ll recruit these players in 2012. “With Worldwide
Wes [CAA agent William Wesley] and him, you’re making a decision as a
player to be packaged the way they packaged him. They follow him.”
James and Wade are taking this league over, and they’ll dominate the
next several seasons. Their agents are determined to leverage that into
complete control of the league’s elite, and LeBron’s figured out a way
to profit, too.
The Washington’s Post Mike Wise reported on a James’ text message to
an NBA player in free agency that said simply, “Yo, this is King James.”
This is precisely how he has done it with the college players that he’s
recruited for CAA and his marketing company, LRMR. This was a true a
year ago when Y! Sports reported on it, and it’s still true now. Dwyane Wade helped bail out James in the final minutes of the 2008 Olympic gold-medal game. He wasn't able to do so in Games 4 and 5 of the NBA Finals.
Two years ago, an All-American college player told his coach that
James called him and the young player didn’t recognize the number.
“This is the King,” the voice said.
The kid was like, “Huh?”
“This is the King.”
Yes, LeBron’s taking over and all, but Dirk Nowitzki isn’t one of his acolytes, nor one of his fans. There’s a thirtysomething core of champions – Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and so on – who don’t swoon in the King’s presence. They don’t want his marketing company, his agents, his style.
For now, Dirk wants to beat James and Wade, wants an NBA
championship, and that’s part of the reason why the Heat’s stars are so
openly willing to mock him.
Modern NBA history doesn’t offer many examples of the more talented
team losing in the Finals, but it could happen this year. This should’ve
been on Wade’s mind when he started playing the clown for cameras the
afternoon of Game 5, dragging a willing James into a sideshow that he
didn’t need now.
Three years ago, Wade bailed out James in a title game in Beijing,
but this is different. When LeBron James stares into space, bites his
nails and disengages late in another championship game, Wade won’t have
Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard to help. And this isn’t Spain they’re trying to beat, but the tough, willful Mavericks of Dirk Nowitzki.
Feel free to mock Nowitzki, but when the fourth quarter comes on
Sunday night, Dwyane Wade knows the superstars who can be counted upon,
and knows the ones who’ve faked their way through this in the past.