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In 2009, inside the legendary Timeout at Shannon’s barbershop, a South Side vs. West Side vs. south suburbs debate was had. The question posed: Is Dwyane Wade the best player to come out of Chicago? Michael Buffer, the only add-on missing.
In the shop that day, luminaries who’d spent their lives either on the sidelines or inside the sidelines of basketball courts of Chicago for generations. All sides represented and red-lined. West Siders claimed Isiah Thomas and Mark Aguirre. South Siders agreed with Isiah but included Derrick Rose’s future as a caveat due to what he’d shown leading up to him getting Rookie of the Year a few months before the verbal rumble. A moment of silence given to Benji Wilson for what he could have been. But D-Wade? All at the time said either “No” or “Not yet” or “He’ll never take Zeke’s [Isiah’s] crown.”
Then the soloist from Calumet Park squared up: ‘‘This is a typical, biased, Chicago, Public School-only conversation. Seriously. If you aren’t ‘the Man’ running the Public League in basketball, no one pays attention to you. But D-Wade averaged 28 [points], seven [rebounds] and eight [assists] in high school, dawg. [Note: Actually, 27 points and 11 rebounds his senior year.] But you all hold it against him because he didn’t do it in the Red-West or something. Example: Kevin Garnett. Everyone expected Farragut with Garnett and Ronnie [Fields] on that team to run through the state and just get handed the trophy. But us in the south subs were like, ‘Wait, Thornton got a whip.’ And we shut that [Chicago] noise down.’’
Silence. He continued.
‘‘Dwyane Wade had the most dominant first six years in the NBA of anyone who’s from Chicago. Period. So, I’ll give you all Isiah as 1A, but at this point I don’t have a problem saying D-Wade is 1B. And if he gets one more ring, I’ll say he’s the greatest of all time to ever come out of this city.’’
Wade messed around and got two more rings.
Wade never won an MVP. Was never considered the greatest player of his generation. Has more All-NBA third-team selections than he does first-team. Zero first-team All-Defense selections, even though he’s considered one of the best defensive guards of his era. And his career average of 22 points per game light-skins in comparison to the other 2s at his position whom he historically is forever in conversation against: Allen Iverson, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant, James Harden, George Gervin and Michael Jordan.
So in this city, where basketball is the equivalent to biotech in Silicon Valley, coffee in Seattle, sneakers in Portland and SAG-AFTRA in L.A., what does his entrance into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday mean to us? To the city he was born in, the city he lived just a few miles outside of but spent most of his time in for the bulk of his pre-Marquette University life, the city that he fully reps as his home with the team he came ‘‘home’’ to play for for a year? Three-word answer: Sum. Total. All. Because while he won’t be a part of the game’s GOAT debate, he is in the Chi-Town hoop debate of GOATs. And his HOF induction put him in a conversation of two.
While only three other modern-era players from the Chi (Randy Brown, Shaun Livingston and JaVale McGee) have as many rings [Note: George Mikan, who probably should be in any/all Chicago GOAT arguments, has five rings, and Celtics great Don Nelson also has five.] and only one other (Isiah) has a Finals MVP on his résumé, an argument against Wade not being the city’s greatest now becomes a hard one to convincingly lose.
Maybe it’s the hidden sauce. What the regulars of us don’t see on the surface or don’t pay attention to that tips his scale. His PER (player efficiency rating) is one that has become legendary over the course of the last two generations of basketball. A category in which only two shooting guards in history (Jordan and Harden) have higher career ratings,
one he led in the 2006 NBA Finals with the highest rating (33.8) in the league since 1976.
Maybe it’s the bigger picture, where across-the-board outlets such as Bleacher Report, HoopsHype and NBA.com list him as the No. 3 shooting guard to bless an NBA floor (ESPN has him No. 4 on its all-time list). Maybe an argument can be made that he is the contemporary standard of unselfish greatness, a pillar in how the game should be — but rarely is/was/ever will be — played. Maybe for all who were paying close-close attention at the time, it’s not just that he won, it’s the way that he won that first title. How in the last four games of that ’06 Finals, he actually ascended himself as the one who was more like Jordan as a player than anyone — including Kobe — until he Jedi’d LeBron to Jordan his Pippen in Miami.
Or maybe it’s the fact that — even while coming up in Robbins — he embodied everything Chi is about when it comes to this. For a city that prides itself as the sole soul of the culture of hoops, this dude held down this city on the game’s greatest stage during a time and in a way Garnett couldn’t (that whole South Carolina-called-home thing has massive gravitational pull on KG’s Chicago legacy) while — at the same time — ceiling-ing the expectations of all Chicago hoopers after him, including Rose, Anthony Davis and even Jalen Brunson, to a place they remain incapable of reaching.
He did that and somehow still found a way to be greater at his position than Isiah was at his without in some minds being greater than Isiah (Wade is 30 on ESPN’s list of GOATs, Isiah is 27). Which in everything D-Wade did over the course of his 16-season NBA career may have been the most impossible. Seriously. How do you dethrone someone without dethroning them?
Again: Sum. Total. All. If nothing else, Dwyane Wade’s HOF inclusion matters. As much to the city of Chi as it does to the history of the NBA. Maybe more. For it personalizes a conversation that no one else in the country or world can have and one that will go on for generations. It keeps it local; it keeps it us.
In a few years, we’re going to be having this same conversation about Candace Parker when her Hall call arrives. But until then, if D-Wade isn’t 1A in the greatest-to-come-outta-Chi debate moving forward, then he sure is far greater than whomever anyone has at 1B.