- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2005

Dwyane Wade is the man, at least according to Washington Wizards forward Antawn Jamison.

Although marketers have embraced LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and the league has been so presumptuous as to compare their entrance with those of Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in 1979, Jamison thinks Wade is better than either of his contemporaries from the 2003 draft.

“Right now, two years into the league, you can talk about LeBron and Carmelo,” Jamison said yesterday, “but I definitely think [Wade] is the cream of the crop right now.”

Taking the long view, Jamison said James, who won the rookie of the year award in 2003-04 and followed up with a spectacular second season, has the most potential. But what impresses Jamison most about Wade, the fifth pick overall in 2003 out of Marquette, is his maturity.

“Maybe I’m biased because he’s whipping our [butts] right now, but he’s phenomenal,” Jamison said of Wade, who will get another crack at the Wizards in tonight’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at MCI Center. “It’s not like we’re not paying attention, and I don’t make excuses. But he’s putting that team on his back, and he’s giving them the confidence that they can win every time.”

This is what Wade’s injured teammate, center Shaquille O’Neal, was supposed to do. But O’Neal is nursing a bruised right thigh that kept him out of Game 3 and could do so again tonight in a series Miami leads 3-0.

O’Neal agrees that Wade is just as good as James or Anthony.

“The last 10 years, draft picks have been coming in 40 percent talent and 60 percent marketing,” O’Neal said. “The only advantages those guys have over him are the Nike contracts and the commercials. Dwyane is a player, and nobody knew about him. I knew he was a player, but I didn’t know he would go to the next level so fast.”

Wade has been spectacular against the Wizards, averaging 27.3 points and 9.3 assists for the series. He’s also making 51.6 percent of his shots with an assortment of jumpers and acrobatic drives often resulting in dunks or gravity-defying layups.

When the Wizards have tried to crowd Wade, he has beaten them with his passing. In Game 2, he handed out a franchise playoff record 15 assists to go with his 31 points.

But Wade never has been an attention grabber like James and Anthony. He married his high school sweetheart, and when he was ready for college he was ignored by Illinois and DePaul, the schools that so often pluck the Chicago-area talent.

Now, though, people are starting to notice him.

“To be in this situation, with Shaq hurt and us knowing we have to stop Dwyane, is special,” Jamison said. “He doesn’t get frustrated. He doesn’t try to do too much, and during crunch time he wants the ball in his hands. I don’t think anybody in the playoffs has played better. … How can you argue with what he’s done? It’s unbelievable.”

Told of Jamison’s compliments, Wade was properly humble and gracious.

“Any time a veteran player says something about you in that respect, it’s a compliment, and I want to thank him for saying it,” Wade said. “LeBron, Carmelo and I — we never try to one-up each other. We’re just trying to be the best players we can be.

“I don’t care if people think I’m the best player or if they don’t. As long as my team is the best, I’m not going to worry about it.”

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