Teaching Wade, James not hard for Heat assistant
LeBron James is the NBA's two-time most valuable player. Dwyane Wade is a former finals MVP and was generally considered to be the star of stars when the U.S. Olympic team won gold at the Beijing Games two summers ago.
They're unquestionably two of the world's best.
David Fizdale's job is to make the duo even better.
So this scene will play out countless times for the Miami Heat in the coming weeks and months: As practice ends, Fizdale will summon James and Wade over to his corner of the court, setting up individual drills and not letting them hit the showers until extra work is logged.
Entering his third season as a Heat assistant coach, Fizdale was once a top-notch Division I college guard at San Diego. These days, he's no match for Wade and James on the court, but his focus isn't on beating them - it's making them ready to beat others.
''It's not intimidating at all, because they want to get better,'' Fizdale said. ''The thing that I stress to them is, 'You're already at the top, the elite of the game. You're right there with the Kobe Bryants and other guys mentioned in that same breath.' But the challenge isn't to be better than them. It's to be their best. The more I push that, the more they buy into what we're trying to get done.''
Much like Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did when Wade came into the league, Fizdale is now the assistant charged with working with the guys such as Wade and James. Bob McAdoo - a Hall of Fame player - works with the big men, of course, and former Heat player Keith Askins tends to spend extra time with whomever asks.
During training camp this past week at Hurlburt Field, Fla., it wasn't uncommon to see Fizdale under a far basket, leaning into James while the MVP was taking jump hooks, or charging at Wade when shooting from the wing.
''His biggest thing is always to challenge yourself,'' Wade said. ''When you look at someone like LeBron, who's been a two-time MVP and has had success like I've have, he always makes you challenge yourself. How can you get better? What more can you do? He's been big for me.''
Fizdale traveled plenty this summer. That doesn't mean he had much of a summer vacation.
Wade didn't spend a lot of time in Miami during the offseason because of free agency and family obligations. Wade's divorce was finalized this offseason, but custody of his two sons remains an unsettled issue.
So Wade spent every possible day in Chicago with his sons. To help him manage his time, the Heat sent Fizdale to work with Wade.
In short, where Wade went, Fizdale went, a personal coach whenever the Heat star wanted.
''He really pushed me,'' Wade said. ''There were many days where I didn't like him. I asked coach to take him back. But he really had me get in shape for camp, and I appreciate his dedication to his job and really focused on improvement. He's helped me improve a lot.''
Fizdale's background as a player clearly helps when working on the nuances of any NBA star's game.
It's his other background - a communications major, minor in sociology - that also helps him quickly create bonds that go deeper than typical player-coach standards, Wade said.
''He's the kind of guy who knows how to work relationships,'' Wade said. ''He's very good. He and I have a good rapport, and I think him and LeBron will have that because when you see a guy who has your best interests at hand ... you appreciate that guy. Not a lot of coaches would do that. When the whistle blows, a lot of people go their separate ways. Not here.''
Fizdale started in the Heat video room, like Spoelstra, and eventually left for stints as an assistant at San Diego and Fresno State, then NBA assistant stops with Golden State and Atlanta.
When Spoelstra took over as head coach, Fizdale returned to Miami. And when so many things fell into place for the Heat this summer - Wade and Udonis Haslem staying, James coming to Miami along with Chris Bosh and Mike Miller, and other key signings - Fizdale felt rejuvenated.
Nonetheless, it was soon time to get to work.
''It was just pure excitement,'' Fizdale said. ''I didn't automatically say 'championship,' but I know we have a chance. For me, personally, that's what I've always wanted - a chance to win it.''