When Dwyane Wade needed a boost, Tom Crean stepped in -- and changed history.
By CHRIS TOMASSON FS Florida
This might be the age of instant information, but Tom Crean found a way to turn back the clock.
On May 17, 2012,
Dwyane Wade had one of the worst nights of his NBA career. The
Miami guard shot just 2 of 13 for five points in a playoff loss at Indiana. He got into a heated argument on the bench with
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. And, most damaging, Miami was walloped 94-75 to fall behind 2-1 in an Eastern Conference semifinal.
An hour south of Indianapolis in Bloomington, Ind., Crean, the head coach at Indiana, who had been Wade’s coach at Marquette, watched it all unfold. So Crean sprung into action.
He touched base with Wade and then with Spoelstra to make sure he wasn’t stepping on any toes. He invited Wade down to the Indiana campus the next day to get away from it all. And Crean was serious about that.
“The biggest thing he needed was to take a deep breath, and that meant the whole day,’’ Crean said. “So I told my players we didn’t want any Internet in there. I didn’t want ESPN or any sports television in there. We turned off the TVs in the building. (What Wade had gone through in Game 3) was a pretty hot-button topic.’’
So while the rest of the world was debating what was wrong with Wade, who had been limping around on a bad knee, how much his relationship with Spoelstra had been damaged and whether the Heat were doomed in the series, there was no such talk at Indiana’s basketball facility. There was an information blackout.
What happened that day in Bloomington might have changed the course of basketball history. Wade spent a day with his old college coach, who offered him advice, showed him film that had been broken down and worked with him on the court to make adjustments to his shot.
Wade came back a new man. In Miami’s must-win Game 4 against the Pacers on May 20, he scored 30 points on 13-of-23 shooting and totaled nine rebounds and six assists as the Heat won 101-93 to tie the series 2-2.
“It maybe changed history,’’ said Wade of Crean helping steer him back in the right direction, one that led to the Heat eventually winning the NBA title last June. “It continues to be part of my history.’’
Wade will be back in Indiana for Friday's game against the Pacers, but it’s unlikely he will need any emergency therapy. But if something were to come up, you better believe Crean would be there.
Wade and Crean have a unique relationship, one that was born in the summer of 1999 when Wade was a raw prep prospect entering his senior year at Richards High School outside Chicago. After spending three seasons at Marquette (2001-03), Wade said goodbye to the campus when he bolted to the pros in 2003, but his relationship with Crean has remained intact.
“He came into my life when I needed a father figure, a role model,’’ said Wade, whose parents had divorced when he was young and whose mother had been a drug addict, of Crean taking him under his wing after he had enrolled at Marquette in the fall of 2000 and was academically ineligible to play as a freshman. “He was somebody I trusted from Day 1. I put all my trust in him . . . He was one of the first men that I was comfortable with telling him that I love him.’’
Crean, 46, has served as a coach at Dwyane Wade’s Fantasy Basketball Camp in Miami the past two summers and catches Heat games in person when he can. The two talk and text regularly.
Crean often has film broken down from Wade’s games and provides pointers. Sometimes, he touches upon other subjects.
“I just said he’s come a long way from Chuck E. Cheese’s birthdays,’’ said Crean of what he texted to Wade when the NBA star turned 31 on Jan. 17.
Wade has come a long way since Crean entered his life. The first time the two talked was June 20, 1999, the first day rising high school seniors could field phone calls in recruiting.
It’s a conversation neither has forgotten.
“I was driving home from Marquette and it was after 8 o’clock at night,’’ Crean said. “He was very humble and very quiet and was giving one-or two-word answers. But once I continued talking with him, he began to loosen up and he was talking more and more.’’
It was about a 25-minute drive from Marquette to Crean’s home at the time in the Milwaukee area. But the call stretched to 40 minutes, so Crean found himself driving around his neighborhood for a while as the two developed a rapport.
“He was energetic right away, and you could tell he really wanted me to be a part of that university,’’ Wade said. “It was a memorable conversation. It was the start of it all, and I’ll never forget it.’’
Crean, who saw Wade play later that summer for the first time at an AAU game in Chicago, remembers Wade being raw but athletic.
“You couldn’t tell at that time he would become the player he has. Nobody could,’’ Crean said. “But you could see flashes of it. He was unassuming and he played at a relatively methodical pace. But then there would be sudden bursts at the rim. I saw him make a play in San Diego where he came from left wing, took two dribbles and dunked. I turned to (an assistant) and said, ‘We don’t have anybody who can do anything like that.’’’
Because of Wade being expected to be academically ineligible as a freshman, a lot of schools were scared off. But Crean promised Wade a scholarship regardless of whether he qualified even though Wade later learned Crean hadn’t been authorized to do that.
“I remember I was in the home visit with Dwyane and Coach and Dwyane asked, ‘If it doesn’t work out for me, will you still take me?’ ’’ recalls Tim Buckley, then a Marquette assistant and now Crean’s top assistant at Indiana. “Without hesitation, (Crean) said, ‘Yes.’ Then we got in the car and we’re heading back and he said, ‘I think I’ve got to check on that first.’ ’’
Crean said he didn’t realize Marquette, at the time, had never taken a partial qualifier. But Crean said Wade eventually won over Father Robert Wild, then Marquette’s president, with his humility and character and an exception was made.
“Plus, he was a Chicago guy, which didn’t hurt,’’ Crean said of Wild, a Jesuit priest.
Crean was in his first year as coach of the Golden Eagles. That the new guy was willing to stick his neck out for Wade really helped with his beginning to trust Crean.
“I might have had to go play junior-college ball,’’ Wade said. “But I felt that he always had confidence in me.’’
That doesn’t mean Crean ever took it easy on Wade. The coach worked Wade relentlessly during his freshman season, when Wade could practice but couldn’t play in games or travel.
“I’m sure there were rocky points,’’ Crean said. “I was hard on him. You don’t get to having a great relationship by not trying to help somebody be the absolute best. But I think that first year our relationship was cemented. I don’t think he ever felt ignored that first year when he couldn’t play.’’
Wade said Crean put him though running drills that he called “one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life.’’ But Wade soon began to realize Crean had his best interests in mind.
After his freshman year, before Wade even had played a game for Marquette, his relationship with Crean grew on a personal level. Wade, then 19, told the coach in the summer of 2001 that his then girlfriend and later wife, Siohvaughn Funches, was pregnant with the couple’s first child.
The boy, Zaire, was born Feb. 4, 2002. Wade later gained a second son in Zion, who was born in 2007, before the couple soon divorced.
“I broke down to him when I realized I was going to have a child, a kid in college,’’ Wade said. “He hugged me and I was crying and he said, ‘Listen, we’re going to get through this together.’ I never really had anybody at the time say, ‘I’m in this with you. We’re going to get through this together.’ That was very important to me. No matter what, he was going to show that he was on my side.’’
Wade’s parents, Dwyane Sr. and Jolina, had been divorced when he was young. Wade has openly spoken about his now-recovered mother once being a drug addict. At the age of 10, Wade went to live with father and stepmother, and he has spoken well of his father. Still, Crean was able to help provide a guiding force in Wade’s life when he needed it.
Just as Wade sees Crean as a father figure, the coach looks at the player like a family member. Crean cherishes 1999, a year that also included his now 13-year-old son Riley being born.
“My son was born two months before I met Dwyane,’’ said Crean, who with wife Joani, also has daughters Megan, 17 and Ainsley, 7. “It was a special time.’’
Times continued to be special after Wade became eligible to play. He averaged 17.8 points as a sophomore in 2001-02 and 21.5 as a junior, when he led the Golden Eagles to the 2003 Final Four.
As Wade rapidly improved, Crean continued to do what he could to get the most out of his star guard. Robert Jackson, Wade’s teammate at Marquette during the Final Four season, remembers what practices were like.
“Coach Crean was real tough on Dwyane,’’ Jackson said. “If he wasn’t first in every drill, he would make the whole team run. He did that to help Dwyane understand the value of leadership.’’
By the time Wade’s junior season was over, it was obvious he wouldn’t be back as a senior. After getting a triple-double of 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists against Kentucky in the Midwest Regional Final, he was all but assured of being a lottery pick.
The Heat took Wade with the No. 5 selection in the 2003 NBA Draft. Just three years later, Wade was Finals MVP after leading Miami to 4-2 series win over Dallas in the NBA Finals.
Through Wade's sudden rise to fame, he remained close with Crean. Spoelstra, who had been a Heat assistant during Wade’s first five seasons before taking over as head coach in 2008, remembers always running into Crean during the Heat’s twice-a-season visits to Milwaukee. (Marquette shares the Bradley Center with the Bucks.)
“When we played in Milwaukee, Tom would come to all our shootarounds, our practices,’’ Spoelstra said. “They would go out afterward and have dinner. It was great to see their relationship . . . They’re very close. Tom knew Dwyane when he was a young kid and saw him grow under his tutelage, and he also has been involved with him as he grew up into a professional.’’
Crean moved on to Indiana in 2008, which meant he no longer could take any quick drives down the street to see Wade. But Crean makes the trip up Indiana State Road 37 from Bloomington to see Wade in Indianapolis when the coach can.
Crean wasn’t able to attend Game 3 between the Heat and Pacers last May. But he watched on television as Wade had one of his worst nights as a pro.
Wade, who would have surgery on his left knee two months later, looked to really be hurting. With Wade’s shots not falling and Miami losing, he got into a heated argument with Spoelstra during the third quarter.
When the game was lost, the doomsayers surfaced. It was generally thought the Heat, who had lost in the 2011 Finals in the first year with the Big Three of LeBron James, Wade and
Chris Bosh, would fall short again if they lost Game 4. Talk already was starting about whether Miami would break up its star-studded team.
“I just happened to be an hour away,’’ Crean said of Wade’s world being in peril. “But I would have gone anywhere if he had needed me.’’
The wheels were set in motion for Wade to come to Bloomington.
“Tom communicated to me from the beginning and said, ‘Hey, would you mind?’ ’’ Spoelstra said. “I said, 'Absolutely, not. It would be great.’ It was a perfect setting for Dwyane to hear a different voice. It was a voice that was pure and that he could trust.’’
So a car service picked Wade up in Indianapolis and he arrived in Bloomington at 3:30 p.m.
Crean then went to work.
“It was a very relaxing day,’’ said Crean. “We spent lot of time looking at video of his shooting and we just reminded him of technique. We spent an hour, 15 minutes out on the court working on his shot and just offering reminders.’’
Wade spent some time addressing Indiana players. Crean then took Wade to his house for dinner.
Wade ate steaks with the family that had been prepared by Crean’s wife. Crean then drove Wade back to the team hotel in Indianapolis, arriving just before midnight.
Crean said it was clear Wade’s knee really had been bothering him in Game 3. Crean said the two days off between games also played a role in Wade’s big outing in the series-saving Game 4.
Put it all together and Wade is grateful he had a chance to visit with Crean during such a pivotal period.
“Sometimes, you just need to hear another voice,’’ Wade said. “It’s crazy that it happened in Indiana and we had a day off where I could visit my coach, who was a mentor of mine. He just got my mind back to working on what I needed to do.
“The best advice he gave me was just telling me, ‘You’re one of the best players in the world. Now go out and show that.’ We talked about a lot of things, but at the end of the day you need somebody telling you that you’re not any less better than you were back when they were calling you one of the best.’’
That advice lasted for more than just one game. Wade had 28 points in Game 5 in Miami against the Pacers and 41 in the clinching Game 6 win back in Indiana.
Wade averaged 24.1 points in his final 15 playoff games last spring, which included the Heat dispatching Oklahoma City 4-1 in the Finals, with Crean on hand to see Wade score 25 points in Game 3 in Miami.
“It was great,’’ said forward
Udonis Haslem, who is Wade’s closest friend on the Heat and has been his teammate for all 10 seasons, of the guidance Crean provided last May. “We all have struggles. You need people you are close to to send words of encouragement during this long season sometimes. And Tom is like a father figure to Dwyane.’’
It must be said, though, that not all the advice in this relationship is what Crean provides to Wade. When the Hoosiers were ranked No. 1 in the preseason, Wade imparted to Crean some wisdom on what it’s like to be the team everybody wants to beat.
Even though they both have very busy lives, Wade and Crean make time to keep in touch. Wade has become one of the world’s biggest names in basketball, but he always remembers who helped get him where he is now.
“When you look at it, it’s an ideal relationship between a coach and a player,’’ Wade said. “I think we have that from the standpoint of the respect we have for each other. Even though I have done great things in the NBA, I still listen to my college coach. I still take everything he says and I listen to it and I take it into consideration. I don’t think at all that just because I’m in the NBA now, I’m bigger and better than his advice.’’
Being an NBA superstar can have drawbacks when Wade has a game like he did last May and skeptics are out in full force. But it sure helps having a mentor who seemingly can turn back time and shut out the rest of the world.