- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

DALLAS — Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton one day will enter the Basketball Hall of Fame, joining their coach with the Miami Heat, Pat Riley. But the future of the Heat, who won the first NBA championship in franchise history Tuesday night, clearly rests in the hands of third-year guard Dwyane Wade.

Wade, 24, was named MVP of the NBA Finals after averaging 34.7 points and leading Miami past Dallas in six games. The Heat became the first team in finals history to win the title after dropping the first two games on the road.

Despite the presence of stars like Shaquille O’Neal and Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki on the floor, the shooting guard clearly established himself as the best player in the series.

“He just took it to another level,” said Riley, who won his fifth championship as a coach. “He made his legacy in his third year. We are so blessed to have him. He is one of the most respected young guys this league has had in a long time.”

But despite his dominant performance, Wade has shied away from the adulation that rained down on him after Tuesday’s 95-92 victory on the Mavericks’ homecourt.

“I don’t want to say I put the team on my shoulders — we did it as a team,” Wade said. “[My teammates] gave me the opportunity by putting the ball in my hands.”

Wade’s assault started when he scored 15 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3, rallying the Heat from a 13-point deficit in the final six minutes. In Game 5, Wade strangled the Mavericks again, packing 21 points into the fourth quarter and overtime of a 101-100 Heat victory. It concluded back in Dallas with 36 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals and an MVP trophy — a foregone conclusion.

“He really won them the championship,” Nowitzki said. “From Game 3, when we blew that 13-point lead, he took over from there.”

Wade demonstrated a maturity beyond his years, which is why he didn’t take the bait when his name was mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan’s.

“There’s no comparison,” said Wade said, who trails Jordan by five championships. “He was kind of like my second father because he’s the guy that I watched. The comparisons are flattering, but at the same time I always stay away from them because there will never be another Jordan.”

Meanwhile, the Heat’s future remains uncertain. At 34, O’Neal — who has $80 million coming to him over the next four years — is not the dominant player he once was. And Mourning and Payton might retire.

But as long as they have Wade, the Heat appear to be on solid ground.

“He has a lot of will to win,” Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. “You’ve seen a lot of players, like Jordan, in history that have had a huge desire to win. That’s what he has a whole lot of.”

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