So when Wade was telling fans at the Dolphins game Monday night to make sure they showed up early for the Heat's preseason debut, he wasn't kidding.
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"I didn't think I'd be out there for three minutes," said Wade, who limped off with 8:43 left in the first quarter with a pulled hamstring. "Careful what you say."
Very few conclusions can be drawn from this unintentional exercise in hype trumping substance, which turned out to be a glimpse of what the Heat would've looked like had they traded Wade for LeBron and Bosh. All the questions we have about how good they'll be, how many games they'll win, how LeBron and Wade will play together, whose team this will be, etc. ... all of that will have to wait for another day.
But with his actions, with his play, and with his words after the game, James left no doubt about what his stature on this team will be. First impressions are important, and James made a deafening one Tuesday night. From his inaugural tossing of the talc at the scorer's table at 7:41 p.m. ET, to his relentless attacking of the basket with and without Wade on the court, to his promise afterward -- "I will never defer," he said -- James made it quite clear that he did not come here to be a sidekick or an afterthought.
He came here to play the same way he's played for the past seven years, and four before that at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary's. His locomotive speed, his aggression with the ball in his hands -- those things, evidently, won't change whether he's playing with Boobie Gibson or the Mayor of Wade County.
"No matter how many weapons we have on the court, I'm going to still play my game," said James, who thrilled the near-capacity crowd with 18 points, four assists, two blocks and a steal in 26:53 -- not to mention the still hypothetical notion of how his immense gifts will blend with Wade's.
Then James, having scored or assisted on 16 of Miami's first 24 points said this: "I can't defer. If I have an opening, I'm going to go for it. If I have a look, I'm going to go for it. One thing you can see is that I don't have to force many shots. ... I have guys that can make shots and I have guys that can make plays for other guys. So it's not a lot of pressure on me making shots every time I shoot one. I'm never going to defer. I'm always in attack mode."
So it was Wade who got the honor of being introduced last during pre-game. But at the end of the night, it was LeBron who stepped up to the microphone and gave us the first money quote of the Heat's 2010-11 season.
I'm never going to defer.
|James: 'No matter how many weapons we have on the court, I'm going to still play my game.' (AP)|
With Wade watching from the locker room, the unveiling of the Superteam turned into the LeBron James Show. It was a show we've seen many times before. The arena sponsor was American Airlines instead of Quicken Loans, and James was introduced to the crowd first instead of last. But beyond that, James' dominance was on display in ways that have become all too familiar. Everything had changed, and nothing at all.
Don't waste your energy overanalyzing this; there's nothing to analyze yet. Frankly, until the ball goes up in Boston for the Heat's regular-season debut on Oct. 26 -- and in the home opener against Orlando on the 29th -- we won't know much more than we already know. Even then, it's the games in May and June that will make or break Pat Riley's greatest experiment, not anything that happens when the calendar still reads 2010.
"If we have one key slipup or one minor slipup, it's going to be on SportsCenter," Bosh said. "It's going to be on everything."
Other than Wade's hamstring tightening up, there were no slipups in Game 1; only a revelation. Wade is still Star No. 1 on this team, still the fan favorite and the team spokesman. His smile and familiarity with the city and the fans, not to mention his championship ring, will always make him the favored son. But what if James' unspeakable talents overwhelm it all? What if the player who needed to leave Cleveland to get better talent around him still needs to be the brightest star in the room?
What if he's so good, he can't help it?
For a few weeks in the summertime with Team USA these past few years, it all worked out just fine. But over 82 games, plus the playoffs, there is no way to hide the obvious on a basketball court. What if South Beach becomes LeBron's world and Wade winds up just living in it?
"Me and LeBron, we kind of know each other -- we've played with each other -- so that hasn't been a problem," Wade said. "I think the one thing I've seen, it takes a little bit off of me when the play breaks down and they don't always have to just look for me when you have me on one wing and 'Bron on the other wing. So it opens up the game where the big men can make a decision when the plays break down to come to my side or 'Bron's side. So it makes the game a little easier for me."
After seeing this for only three minutes, 17 seconds Tuesday night, we'll have to take his word for it. But this much I know: Wade heading to the bench caused James' natural instincts to come out. This is who he is, the most gifted and dominant player on the floor. This might not be a bad thing; it's just the truth.
"That's what we want," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We want him to feel comfortable. He's a two-time MVP. We don't want to reinvent his game. We don't want him to do things that he's not comfortable with or that don't show his greatness. We want to incorporate that greatness into what we do."
Then Spoelstra marveled, "On the break, he is dynamic. That is a unique talent. To be able to move that fast, to be able to make decisions and handle the ball at that speed really is remarkable. And we need to get used to playing at that pace."
That was Spoelstra's "wow" moment. Wade's came a few hours earlier, at 5 o'clock, when he was on the court with LeBron and Bosh warming up. It was only the three of them, and it hit Wade as though he were taking a freight-train charge from LeBron.
"I was just like, 'Wow,' " Wade said. 'These are my teammates.' "
The wow moments that count -- and there will be many -- haven't happened yet. But first impressions? James left those all over his new home Tuesday night, left them floating in the air like 1,000 handfuls of talc.