Kobe Bryant might have always been the most hated man in Boston among the current generation of Celtics fans, but in the past two years the stars of the Miami Heat have challenged Bryant's title. Yet while the rest of the country saves its detest for LeBron James, we may be the only city with equal odium for Dwyane Wade.
For diehard Celtics fans, the plays only need to be described with a few words: The Kick, The Face Slap, The Elbow-Bender. Those moments will follow Wade whenever he plays in Boston for the rest of his career.
Does that make Wade a dirty player? Not quite. Our mailbag questioner this week seems to think so, however, so let us take a look at one possible explanation for why Wade seems to get away with so much physical play against the Celtics.
Can you tell me your opinion about Dwyane Wade? He is a copy of Ron Artest with what the referees allow. How many times does Wade have to hurt [Rajon] Rondo, kick [Kevin] Garnett and how many others? Did you see the videos? Get time and look at them. He dislocated Rondo's arm once. Then he hit him in the face and the referees ignored that in the present playoffs. –Iris V. Burgos, Orlando, Fla.
Whatever Wade is, he is not a copy of Metta World Peace, nee Ron Artest. Wade has never given anyone a concussion with a deliberate elbow or run into the stands to take part in a brawl. Let's just get that out of the way before we go any farther.
Wade has seemed to get away with a number of physical plays against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. His swinging legs while attempting layups have caught Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, as Iris mentioned, and his swinging arm caught Rajon Rondo in the face in that egregious non-call at the end of Game 2. From a Celtics fan's perspective, it can seem like Wade usually gets the benefit of the doubt from the referees.
I'm not sure why that is true, or if it even is true. I can only put forth a theory since you asked.
Wade is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA today and is one of the top shot-blocking guards in the history of the game. He had the most blocked shots of any guard this season, and at 6-foot-3 he was on the small side for guards in that category. Jeff Teague, at 6-foot-2, was the only player shorter than Wade among the top 10 shot-blocking backcourt players. Avery Bradley's stuff of Wade at the rim during the regular season was so noteworthy because it was exactly what fans have gotten used to seeing Wade do himself. The Celtics saw that type of play from Wade in the fourth quarter in Game 5, on the play that has become better known for Rondo's tip-pass to Mickael Pietrus.
Perhaps Wade's reputation as an aggressive defender gives him some leeway with the officials. The previously mentioned World Peace is among a long list of defenders who got away with some extra contact because they were known as ball-stoppers. Bruce Bowen, Dennis Rodman, Tony Allen, the entire 1998-99 New York Knicks roster — even Michael Jordan and Bryant became a bit handsy after a few All-Defensive Team selections.
When a player defends well over a period of time, the referees may start to assume any contact is the result of fair contact. They shouldn't, of course. The officials should call the game as it is, not as they anticipate it being. But officials are human, and like all humans they are subject to human mistakes and assumptions.
Rather than take this as an outrage, though, Celtics fans should look at their own squad. Garnett is considered among opponents as a grabby (some even go so far as to say "dirty") defender. Ray Allen knows all the tricks at this stage in his career, which is how he has learned to defend superstars like Bryant and Wade adequately despite some nagging lower-body injuries. Boston also has its own budding defensive force in Bradley, who did not seem to get the benefit of the doubt at all in his first season as a member of the Celtics rotation. With another offseason to grow his reputation, maybe we will see Bradley get away with a few borderline plays next season.
Again, nobody is saying Wade or any other player is excused from fouling. If illegal contact is made, it should be called. This is merely one possible explanation. If anyone has a better one, feel free to share it in the comments below.