untung99.biz: Dwyane Wade made hard work look easy Hall of Fame is reward

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Before the rings and records, before the fame and celebrity, Dwyane Wade was asked about ending his career just where it ends Saturday night in Springfield, Mass. He was asked about any career goals, like All-Star teams or the Hall of Fame.

This was after a Miami Heat practice in 2006 when he’d been the last player working on some private game of making 60 shots before leaving the court. Or maybe 70. The numbers fog with time. The answer doesn’t.

“I can’t see beyond working for the next game,’’ he said.

And so as Wade takes his proper place in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend, that’s the proper way to remember him. Everyone plays. But how many work? How many stay after practice, as Wade did that afternoon, as a manager counted his made shots? And the next day? For 16 years?

No one looked more comfortable with NBA stardom when it came or made hard work look so smooth in his play. But it was a mountain of work to reach that point. When Wade couldn’t play because of sagging high school academics his first year at Marquette, he purposely worked each day in practice against a tough-nosed kid named Brian Wardle so he wouldn’t drift through the year.

When he was the Heat’s consolation prize after Chris Bosh went fourth in the 2003 NBA draft, Wade spent his first summer doing the mundane work of moving with the ball from half-court to the free-throw line. He worked on dribbling hard with his left hand, the weakest link in his game. It became his preferred hand to drive.

When told after his second NBA season by U.S. Olympic coach Larry Brown not to shoot the ball in Athens because he wasn’t accurate enough, he adopted a post-practice regimen with then-assistant coach Erik Spoelstra the following season. His shot was broken down. Each day a segment was worked on. Balance. Elevation. Arm extension.

“That’s when I first saw the focus he has,’’ Spoelstra said. “We’d concentrate on one thing each day until it was perfect. Things that would take other guys an hour to perfect, he’d be able to get done in 20 minutes. And he wouldn’t leave until it was perfect.”

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade scores over the Oklahoma City Thunder defense during the first half on March 16, 2011, at AmericanAirlines Arena. (South Florida Sun Sentinel file)

He had a thousand moments for the Heat across his 15 seasons in Miami: The runner as a rookie to beat New Orleans in the playoffs; the fall-down-seven-times-get-up-eight campaign; the way he didn’t just beat but angered Dallas for his first title; the Big Three, every night; the this-is-my-house winning shot against Chicago; the catch-me-if-you-can run down the court after beating Golden State.

But the thread through them to the Hall of Fame this week was a grim exercise in the mundane on the practice floor. Shooting. Cardio. And watching your weight, because the first thing team president  Pat Riley did each year was weigh his players, sometimes weighing himself while saying, “I’m still at my playing weight.”

It all will sound scripted when he talks of his career in retrospect. But it didn’t play out that way, year to year. He needed knee and shoulder surgery after the 2007 season and dedicated himself to a more regimented weight program for the first time.

“I sometimes wondered, ‘Would I ever get it back?’ ” he said.

Fear of losing, of disappointing, motivated him. Sometimes there was fear in the moment, and he was human enough to say it as he stood at the free-throw line with Game 3 of the NBA Finals on the line against Dallas in 2006. Swish. Swish.

There’s another story behind those foul shots, one he’s told before but told best to Tiger Woods on a putting green as Golf Digest captured on video.

“The night before, I was in the gym at midnight, and I was like, ‘I know games come down to free throws. No matter what happens, it’s going to come down to free throws. So I was in the gym and I had my cousin standing next to me. I had him right in my ear talking s— to me.

“And so the next night I get in the same situation where I got to make these free throws and I just went back to last night in the gym. I was like, ‘I just hit 200 of these last night. I got this,’’ he said.

“That’s so good,’’ Woods said.

“It’s like your confidence comes from your work,’’ Wade said. “You’ve done it over and over. You’ve seen yourself do it.”

He worked that way, over and over, until the only game left for him is before a microphone to give his speech at the Hall of Fame.