Wrong to judge Wade by ’06 standard

NBC golf analysts Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller were discussing Tiger Woods’ Saturday at Olympic as he wrapped up a disappointing, at least by his standards, day of golf.

“It’s almost brutal.”

“And Tiger, having a lead in a major and shooting a 75 in a big, big crucial round is just unthinkable.”

“Absolutely.”

“Absolutely. Never would have dreamed it. But again, it is a different time.”

Dwyane Wade has been getting crushed like this all playoffs. And thinking about D-Wade for this column — his game, his legacy, his NBA Finals — and listening to them talk Tiger on Saturday, I had an epiphany:

1) Comparing a player to himself is almost always unfair.

2) We are on the wrong guy.

Wade already won a championship. He did so basically by himself in 2006. OK, he got a little help from NBA ref Bennett Salvatore and a little from Shaq and a lot from Pat Riley. In what I like to call winning time, when shots absolutely had to go down, D-Wade delivered again and again and again.

Now, six years later, a lifetime in basketball years, we seem surprised, almost angry, that time has taken a step from D-Wade. It is almost like, by acknowledging his age, we acknowledge our own.

“I was 24,” he said, sounding somewhat exasperated when asked what had changed since 2006.

Funny thing is, after Game 1, it was one of the nicer questions asked to him about losing a step. Euphemisms were used, and so was the future tense. But the basic thrust of the questions was 1) When did you get so damn old? 2) Can you still jump? 3) WTF?

“Six years ago, man,” Wade continued. “I’m not that athletic, I’ll tell you that, as I was in ’06. But I still have something in me. I still have some left in me. I wish it was possible to stay at that same athleticism as I was at 24, but that’s not possible.”

And just as Wade delivered an aging Shaq a championship in 2006, LeBron James needs to do so for Wade now. It is not that Wade is infirm, or incapable of playing well. We still are talking about one of the 25 best players in the NBA.

The problem is, not unlike Tiger, we cannot shake the image of him when he was younger and faster and more athletic, when he was hitting the shots that won a championship, when we expected game-after-game greatness and he delivered, when every day was great.

With this as our standard, this is why we want to avert our eyes when the 30-year-old D-Wade struggles, and why we have been swinging back and forth so hard on him. He has an off game, and he’s declared a fading star. He has a good game, and he’s back. He has a bad game, and he’s again done.

Again and again, we had been putting a fork in him and yanking it out  — against Indiana, against Boston and now against Oklahoma City. He played poorly, erratically in Game 1 and got crushed as a result.

Whatever you think of D-Wade — and I realize he has an annoying tendency toward melodrama, flopping and getting phantom calls — he also is a battler. It is impossible not to like this about Wade, even less possible after watching him show up early for Game 2 and go all Hoosiers on the building.

He shot and shot and shot and shot jumpers.

He knew he had not been as good as he needed to be in Game 1, and pride brought him there. I am not sure how much practice helps in a case like this. What this speaks to is a guy who might not be as good as he once was but who still is pretty damn good.

He played almost 40 minutes and scored 24 points in Game 1, and afterward he was asked if he had been insulted by the questions from the day before, the ones insinuating he could not still jump.

“Man, it’s fine, whatever,” he said. “I’m not sensitive. I understand the way the world works. I get it. You know, it’s fine. Whatever question is thrown at me, I’m not sensitive, so I can take it.

"Maybe, I’ll get defensive at times. We all do. We’re human. But just know that I am always going to keep coming back until I do not play the game anymore.”

D-Wade is not what he used to be. Neither is Tiger.

What they still are is pretty damn good, and counting out either simply because it is a different time is brutal.