MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade took a pass off the backboard from Chris Paul, leaped with arms outstretched and effortlessly threw down a fierce two-handed dunk.
Less than 30 seconds after tip-off, Wade reminded Miami fans what they missed last season. OK, so it was only an exhibition game, with almost no defense whatsoever, LeBron James throwing lobs to himself and five-point shot attempts. Didn't matter. Wade was on his home court Sunday night for the first time since injuries ended his 2007-08 season five weeks prematurely, and gave the crowd what it longed to see — the 2006 NBA finals MVP back in star form.
“It's good to get back to playing basketball,” Wade said. “I'm happy just to get back out there again, have some fun and most importantly support the cause.”
The cause was Alonzo Mourning Charities, the primary beneficiary of Zo's Summer Groove, which is now in its 12th year and traditionally closes with an All-Star caliber matchup. This year's version might have been the most star-studded yet, with James, Paul and Kenyon Martin all in uniform. Terrell Owens was there, lobbing toy basketballs into the crowd. The Heat past (Tim Hardaway, Damon Jones) and future (Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers) were on display.
But the biggest ovation may have been for Wade.
“We're having some fun,” Wade said. “It's not a regular-season game, but we want to entertain the fans and have some fun.”
Soon, he'll leave to join the U.S. Olympic team as it tunes up for the Beijing Games. First, though, came his role as the co-headliner of the weeklong series of ZSG events, which have now raised around $7 million for children's causes in South Florida. And the highlight was this game, where he strutted and shot to the delight of fans and under the watchful eye of Heat president Pat Riley, who sat courtside.
“It was a great idea for Dwyane and I to bring our resources together,” said Mourning, who was told by doctors not to play because of continuing rehabilitation of a knee injury he suffered in December, yet appeared for the last few minutes anyway and hit a five-point shot as time expired. Wade's team prevailed over Mourning's squad, 174-164.
Of course, there was plenty of what-might-be talk in the locker room before the game. Whenever James and Wade get together between now and 2010 – the summer in which both can opt out of their current contracts – chatter about the two superstars pairing up on the same NBA team will be inevitable.
“A lot can happen in the next two years,” Wade said.
“I could see myself playing with him,” offered James.
For now, playing together in events like this and in Beijing will be enough for the star duo.
It was Wade's first time playing before his home fans since March 5. He played in one more game (technically, two, considering the Heat also finished a suspended game in Atlanta before the regularly scheduled meeting there on March 8) before Miami officially shut him down on March 10.
Wade had surgeries on his shoulder and knee in May 2007 and simply was never 100 percent last season. His left knee was so sore four months ago, merely getting out of bed was an adventure. And since the Heat were well out of the playoff picture – on their way to a 15-67 record, the worst in the NBA and matching the worst in franchise history – both he and the team decided the best thing would be to take some time off.
Wade didn't look the tiniest bit rusty Sunday.
“D-Wade looks great to me,” James said.
Wade rested for about six weeks before embarking on a rehabilitation program in Chicago. USA Basketball ultimately had no reservations about putting him on the Beijing-bound roster, and Wade has insisted several times in recent weeks that he feels strong as ever.
“I feel great and I think I've gotten better,” Wade said.