Dwyane Wade is keeping track. He has heard analysts say this Miami Heat line-up will be a flop. He has heard other players lash out over the way LeBron James made his decision. He has heard executives from other teams list Boston and Orlando as the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference.
All duly noted in Wade's mind. He is not bothered nor angered, he said. But he acknowledged that when the Heat convene for training camp in late September, the gibes will serve as motivation for himself, for James, for Chris Bosh and everyone else inside the reloaded Miami locker room. "My whole career is built on fuel," Wade said. "It's always been there. It's not going to change what I do with my life. It's not going to change the way I am as a person. But it fuels you. And we all need that. Every athlete, every competitor needs something to fuel them. It's going to happen throughout the year."
After an off-season with little time to relax, Wade got back to doing what he prefers on Sunday - playing basketball. With a dozen NBA pals, Wade entertained a crowd of about 15,000 fans at the Summer Groove charity game in a glorified exhibition of dunking, 3-pointers and a half-time concert by Flo Rida. Common, the Grammy-winning rapper, was on one bench and Floyd Mayweather Jr, the boxer, coached Wade's team.
Mayweather wouldn't talk about the status of talks with Manny Pacquiao for the fight that the boxing world most wants to see. But ask him about the prospects of Wade, James and Bosh playing together, and Mayweather spoke volumes. "Hopefully, LeBron James has the same chemistry with the Heat that he had with the Cavaliers," Mayweather said. "Maybe a little bit better." James wasn't there for the festivities Sunday, nor was Bosh. But a giant spike in Heat "buzz" has been apparent since they announced they would play together. Outside the arena for the charity, parking lots that typically charge US$10 (Dh36.7) a spot for NBA games wanted $20. Fans begged for autographs, and Wade said there was more excitement than after the 2006 title.
"It's going to be crazy," Dorell Wright, the former Heat forward, said. He would know. Wright was one of the players who left Miami this summer to make room for all the upgrades to the roster. He is a close friend of Wade, who is a godfather to Wright's son. But when Golden State made Wright an offer, he decided that it was time for a new beginning. "I'm just glad I'm getting out of the way," Wright said.
The new nameplates are already up in the Miami locker room. "James 6" and "Bosh 1" have already been installed just down from Wade's cubicle. The proximity of the stars, within about 12 feet of each other, is not sitting well with Wade, who joked the new arrangement won't work when reporters crowd in for post-game interviews. It is his lone complaint of the summer. The Heat kept Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire, traded Michael Beasley and added Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mike Miller. Deals with Magloire and Juwan Howard will be announced later this week. Carlos Arroyo is on the cusp of returning, and James Jones said on Sunday that he will be coming back as well - even though it will be at a lower salary. "I have to come back. This is not something I could pass up," Jones said.
In a few days, Miami has gone from a young team to a veteran one with title aspirations. "When it comes to the top players and the excitement of players, you can't put a price tag on experience and we're bringing that in with guys like Juwan and Big Z and Mike Miller and of course UD coming back," Wade said. "We went last year and the last two years of having a pretty young team of guys. Now we're a veteran-type team."
And that team will have a bulls-eye, Wade said. He expects that, when the NBA schedule comes out in a few weeks, teams around the league will check first to see when they're playing the Los Angeles Lakers, the two-time defending champions, then when they will face the Heat. "We're not even the champions but we're going to get that kind of attention from teams," Wade said. "It's a respect factor." That "respect factor," as he put it, is what matters most.