MIAMI - Dwyane Wade will be the NBA's scoring champion this season. He put up MVP-caliber numbers, ones that drew comparisons to Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson. He was healthy. He was happy. And the Miami Heat are back in the playoffs.
So, Mr. Wade, your assessment of the regular season?
"I'm still angry," Wade said.
He says this with a straight face, those around him waiting for a punch line that never comes.
A winning record, a scoring title, a career-high 55-point game on Sunday to punctuate the best on-the-court regular season of his life, and he's not content?
"No," Wade insists. "I still have something to prove."
For as much as Wade has enjoyed his basketball revival, it's clear he still hasn't recovered from the descent off the game's mountaintop.
Nearly three years have passed since Wade grabbed the last rebound in Dallas and took his spot with the Heat as NBA champions. He was a 24-year-old MVP of the final series.
His rise was rapid.
His fall, maybe faster.
It started not long after that title win in Dallas. Championship ring night was ruined by a 42-point loss to Chicago. The shoulder dislocation, then getting swept in the 2007 playoffs by the Bulls. Surgeries on his shoulder and knee. Miami's freefall to the NBA cellar last season. The breakup of his locker room. The nasty divorce from his high school sweetheart.
No. 3 spent three years becoming a champion, and three years overcoming the string of problems that followed.
"You knew that he was really good, then he had his injuries, then everybody went 'Oh, what about Dwyane?' And then you found out he was really good," said New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, an assistant coach on the U.S. team at last summer's Beijing Olympics, where Wade was the leading scorer for the gold-medal-winning Americans. "It's remarkable how dedicated he must have been to come back. He came not all the way back, he's probably even better than he ever was."
The numbers support that theory.
Barring some statistical calamity, Wade will finish averaging career-highs in scoring (30.2), assists (7.5), steals (2.2) and blocked shots (1.3).
And his flair for the spectacular was never better, whether it was the 24-point fourth quarter to lead the Heat over the Knicks earlier this season, the 50-point, 10-rebound, nine-assist effort in a triple-overtime win over Utah, or the buzzer-beating 3-pointer in double overtime to beat the Bulls, prompting him to jump on the table where Heat owner Micky Arison sits and proclaim "This is my house."
"I've got people in this locker room that look for me to do it," Wade said. "People in this organization look for me to do it. As long as I play the game of basketball, I'm always going to have to prove that I can do it. They're giving me an opportunity to do it. They believe in me and I want to live up to the bill."
He's the first player in NBA history to block more than 100 shots in a season and not be taller than 6-foot-4. And he made a total of 85 shots from 3-point range in his first five seasons, yet already hit 88 from beyond the arc this season, including a career-best six in that 55-point explosion against the Knicks on Sunday night.
Among active players, only Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Tracy McGrady have scored more points in any season than Wade, who has 2,386 already this year, or nearly as many as he managed in the two injury-plagued seasons following the championship in 2006.
He probably won't win the MVP award this season.
But in Miami, they're calling him M-V-3, even making up a couple hundred T-shirts with that phrase to hype his MVP credentials.
"Arguably, you can call him the best 2-guard in the league," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. "He's a great player and there was a lot of talk about him not getting back to form, and they're right. He didn't get back to form. He's better."