NBA Sunday: Dwyane Wade Deserves Better

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Without question, in life, there are certain things that money can buy, and a great many things that all the “Benjamins” in the world couldn’t get you.

Dwyane Wade is the latter, and the Miami HEAT owe him better.

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As he cradled the Larry O’Brien trophy in his left arm, Dwyane Wade did his best to console Kevin Durant. As the two crossed paths in the aftermath of the HEAT’s Game 5 victory over Durant’s Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals, Wade told Durant that, one day, he too would get to the top of mountain.

The moment wasn’t caught on video, but I stood about 10 feet away from the encounter. I saw Durant’s face as the two embraced and I saw the hurt in his eyes. A mere 15 minutes earlier, Durant sat in his locker stall as Wade and his HEAT teammates were celebrating in their locker room. For more than a few minutes, Durant sat with his shoulders slouched, responding to what seemed like hundreds of text messages on his iPhone.

The dichotomy was stark, and in those minutes—minutes after Wade had made good on the promise he made to LeBron James—it was a great illustration of the highs and lows that NBA superstars face.

But for the fortunate few, that high will remain unobtainable. A great many NBA players and franchises attempt to reach the pinnacle and the gross majority try in vain.

Since 1991, unless your team had Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, you would have been lucky to even sniff an NBA Finals appearance, much less win a championship. And the list of NBA superstars that have failed to win a championship is longer than the drive from Tallahassee to South Beach. Mitch Richmond, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Carmelo Anthony are but a few.

So as Wade enters the twilight of his career and looks back at what he has done for the Miami HEAT franchise—the championships, the glory, the immortality—he not only should be treated with respect. He deserves to be treated with respect. And the best way to honor the greatest player in franchise history is to keep an honest and open dialogue with him and help him understand that you haven’t forgotten about him and his contributions on the basketball court.

No, Wade doesn’t deserve to be given some sort of golden parachute from the Miami HEAT. He shouldn’t be paid merely because of what he has accomplished in the past. Wade deserves to be paid because he has proven that, at the end of the day, he is still capable of being a lynchpin on a championship contender.

In his sleep, Wade is more of a catalyst for winning than Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and even Chris Bosh, yet, despite the relative 13 years of success that the franchise has had with him as the mainstay, somewhere along the line, the HEAT decided to not pay him like it. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that the aforementioned three all deserved to be paid handsomely, while Wade would be asked to take what he could get.

Although the numbers may tell you otherwise, Wade is coming off of one of his better seasons in recent memory. Despite having Bosh at his side for only 53 games, Wade played in 74, helped the HEAT to 48 wins, the East’s third seed and to within one game of the Eastern Conference Finals.

For 13 years, Wade has been the consummate professional and the epitome of a franchise player. In large part, the Big Three that he helped orchestrate helped get the ratings, eyeballs and attention that the league itself benefited from to the tune of a $24 billion payday. And for all of that, despite accepting deals that were far below his market value the last three times he became eligible for a new contract, the HEAT rewarded Wade for all of that by offering him a 50 percent pay cut.

Isn’t loyalty a two-way street?

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Over the course of his 13-year career, Dwyane Wade’s on-court career earnings are $156 million.

This past week, the Memphis Grizzlies agreed to pay Mike Conley $153 million over the next five.

While the HEAT decided that Goran Dragic were each worth maximum salary investments, by offering Wade $10 million, they were asking him to accept less money than the likes of Kent Bazemore, Eric Gordon, Courtney Lee and even Arron Afflalo.

How would that make you feel if you were Wade?

WadeInside1As a class, it is difficult for the public to relate to an NBA superstar who has earned over $100 million in his career, but the double-standard by which the gross majority of the public operates needs some enlightening. Dollar figures and amounts paid to players often become part of public record and, because of the salary cap, there is a direct correlation to what a player is paid and the kind of support that can be afforded after said payday. But while we spend minutes and hours discussing the merits and amounts that players are paid, we never once stop to consider what owners are pocketing. We never think about the ugly sides of sports ownership—broken handshakes agreements, cutting injured players and locking out a workforce that does nothing but generate revenue.

Yes, the players are raking in billions of dollars, but, by virtue of the collective bargaining agreement, as a class—all 450 of them—they take home no less than 51 percent of the proceeds. There are 30 owners, and they share equally in their 50 percent. Still, it is a rare occurrence for owners and franchises to be criticized for cost-cutting maneuvers designed to maximum profit margins. By hook or by crook, the bottom line will be met, even if it means locking the players out, as the owners proved just a few short years ago.

So let’s get into the habit of defending a player’s right to get paid, at least when he is an all-time great, a franchise cornerstone and still capable of performing at a high level.

Without the NBA superstar, there is no league, there is no profit and there is no $24 billion television deal. In the same way, without Dwyane Wade, there is no Miami HEAT.

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It’s just business.

Those three words are uttered by team executives all the time and second-guessing is not a common. Why then, do we complain and have issue with a player who wants to maximize his earning potential, particularly when he has played a primary role in the windfall that scores of others have cashed in on?

Why did we have a problem with the Los Angeles Lakers decided that they wanted to give Kobe Bryant the basketball equivalent of a golden parachute in the final two years of his career?

Why did the Miami HEAT pretend like the phantom chase of Kevin Durant and re-signing Hassan Whiteside was more important than ensuring that Wade—the best player in franchise history—felt that he had been adequately provided for?

Betcha he is asking himself those same questions.

And for one of the greatest shooting guards to play the game and the best player in franchise history—one who has delivered three championships—it’s a sad tale that wreaks of being unappreciated and undervalued.

Odds are, Wade re-signs in Miami. In today’s NBA, you don’t spend 13 years with one franchise and win three championships only to move elsewhere. But after covering Paul Pierce as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, watching him hit a valiant buzzer-beating in a playoff game as a Washington Wizard and spoke with him in January as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, I’ve learned to not be so sure anymore.

For the second summer in a row, we find ourselves having this type of discussion as it relates to Dwyane Wade.

After all these years, the Miami HEAT owe him better than that.