Dwyane Wade and LeBron James

by Bryan

It’s good to be Dwyane Wade.

Ten years ago, in the Major League Baseball offseason to end all offseasons, there was a bumper crop of free agents which included three huge names—Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Mike Mussina—and a bunch of smaller ones who followed them like fish follow whales, gobbling up the extra money of the boom days. If the 1998 home run chase “saved” baseball, the 2000 free agent grab was the MLB Network precursor to baseball as a reality show.

That winter, my colleagues at the college newspaper and I refreshed ESPN.com’s free agent tracker once every, oh, three minutes—and only that long because it took about two and a half minutes to load. Every player on the market was listed, and the logos of the interested teams would be applied or removed next to their names based on the news of the day. Rodriguez’s page was the most volatile, reflecting his position as the most singularly heralded free agent of all time: a player with the skills of no other, in the prime of his career, offering his services to the highest bidder. Ramirez’s free agency period was not without its fanfare, but it was a fraction of that of Rodriguez, who, with agent Scott Boras, milked A-Rod’s numbers for everything they were worth, most famously creating a 73-page booklet (link at bottom of page) stating his earning potential based on his already legendary position in the history of the game. The opening page blares: “Alex Rodriguez is the best shortstop in Major League Baseball history at age 24.”

This year’s NBA free agent class has a remarkably similar constitution. For Mike Mussina we have Chris Bosh, the reliably very, very good-but-not-great star whose star gets brighter by association with the others; for Ramirez, already a Hall of Fame-caliber player, we have the legend-in-the-making Dwyane Wade; and for Rodriguez we have LeBron James, the once-in-a-generation supernova of a player, peddling his wares at the peak of their power.

To the degree the Rodriguez and James situations are different, there are two practical considerations that would suggest James has a better chance of choosing to stay in Cleveland than A-Rod had of staying in Seattle; one, he is from the area, and two, the Cavaliers can offer him more money than any other team. That we don’t know, on the eve of the official free agency period, if James is staying or going indicates that this isn’t simply a financial decision. I don’t know what’s in the man’s heart, and I won’t guess, but I’ve tended to agree with the excellent writing of Cleveland Frowns on the subject. Frowns says that all things being equal, it’s in LeBron’s best interests to stay—while acknowledging that none of us know if all things are equal in LeBron’s world. Only LeBron knows that.

All we know is that LeBron courts attention the same way Rodriguez did, which is to say, insatiably… and we know that Wade hasn’t. I’m sure he’s courted suitors in some way, but his exposure is considerably less than LeBron’s, and he has merely been, at worst, the league’s third best player over the last five years. He’s won a title, and nearly won a college title on a team full of players whose greatest skill was standing around and watching him, mouth agape, like everyone else.

I’m not saying Dwyane Wade is showing us how to be the best free agent; to each his own. I’m saying that, compared to LeBron, Wade has handled his business like just that: business. It might be different if he was deciding to leave the Chicago Bulls, his hometown team, rather than join it. but we only have the situation we have. The whole world is watching LeBron’s every move, looking for clues. I’m watching D-Wade.