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Miami's Dwayne Wade Could Lead His Team to an NBA Crown

Dwayne Wade (3)
He is a father, a husband, a fashion model, and one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People. He is also a force to be reckoned with on the basketball court. Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat, along with Shaquille O'Neal and the rest of the Heat hopes to bring Miami its first National Basketball Association title.

There appear to be two Dwayne Wades in the National Basketball Association. One is a quiet, soft-spoken, joke-teller who gives credit to God for his skills and is handles the crush of reporters in Miami's locker room with patience.

Then there's the other Dwayne Wade - a fierce competitor who is not afraid to hurl his body after the ball, to take on larger and stronger opponents and who gets a look on his face that says "this ball is mine and you can't take it!"

Wade is averaging more than 28 points an nearly eight assists per game in the NBA Playoffs so far. He helped Miami sweep aside the New Jersey Nets and the Washington Wizards in the first two rounds of the playoffs. When Shaquille O'Neal went down with an injury, Wade took on the leadership role. In the series-clinching game against Washington, Wade had 42 points, including 22 in the third quarter.

But Wade said that he did not plan to emerge as one of the league's leaders, he is just doing what he can to help Miami win the championship.

"You know when you go out, you feel a little different," said Dwayne Wade. "Players treat you a little different around the league. But, you know at the same time I am just going to continue to try to get better. Hopefully this whole season, not just the playoffs, people have really got the opportunity to see the way that I play. And hopefully they like it. But I am just going out there and trying to win, and just fortunately with me, with God's help, I have been able to put up some big numbers so far in the playoffs."

Miami drafted Wade with the fifth pick in the 2003 draft. But the emergence of two other stars that year - high school sensation LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver's Carmelo Anthony, who had helped lead Syracuse University to the NCAA title - overshadowed the soft-spoken guard from Marquette.

But Wade has done something those other two players have not done - advanced to the eastern Conference finals. Cleveland failed to make the post season while San Antonio beat Anthony and the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. However, Heat Coach Stan Van Gundy says that Wade is not out to outdo anyone - he just wants to help Miami win.

"I think that he has earned about as much respect as you can earn in your second year," said Stan Van Gundy. "And I think everybody puts him right there with those two [James and Anthony]. And A lot of people put him ahead of those two and they are all three of them are great great players. But Dwayne gets to keep going in the playoffs, and obviously that certainly in this league builds your reputation a lot more than not being in or being out quickly."

Wade's on-court performance has earned him the respect of his teammates, including Shaquille O'Neal, who has said one of his goals in coming to Miami was to work with Wade to make Miami into champions. Teammate Damon Jones says that Wade's leadership has helped the Heat get where it wants to be this season.

"He's fearless," said Damon Jones. "He's very aggressive on both ends of the floor. And I think what ties it all together and makes him a complete basketball player is his humbleness and the way he goes about his job. He never boasts or brags about any of his accomplishments. And that's what makes him 'The Flash'. "

His skill have also earned him the respect of Washington's Gilbert Arenas, who after Wade's lackluster performance in the Athens Olympics said the Miami guard had "proven he couldn't shoot." Arenas has a markedly different opinion of Wade now.

"He is the main focus of the team," said Gilbert Arenas. "He doesn't really have to worry about anybody. And when you have that responsibility to just score, you don't have a conscience out there. No shot is bad. What you do is all good. So he is playing with a high level of confidence and he is doing a great job with it. He doesn't take bad shots; that is not part of his repertoire."

But Wade is not invincible - Detroit was able to hold him to a less-than-average seven-for-25 shooting and 16 points in the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals. But in Game 2, Wade bounced back to score 40 points, including 10-for-10 from the free-throw line and 20 points in the final period.

Off the court, Dwayne Wade and his wife have a son, Zaire, and he lists his sister Tragil as his inspiration and the person for whom he is the most thankful for her help rearing him.

A deeply religious man, last season Dwayne Wade donated 10 percent of his $2.6 million salary to his hometown Church in Robbins, Illinois a low-income suburb of Chicago. He wears the the number 3 in testament to the Holy Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Once the basketball season is over, Wade also plans to do some modeling for Sean Jean clothing, which is owned by record producer Sean "Puffy" Cooms.

Wade says he also has taken some good-natured ribbing from his teammates since being named one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People. The only other current athletes on the list were tennis star Maria Sharapova and football star David Beckham of Real Madrid.

But opponents can testify that Wade's good looks and wide-eyed serenity hide an intelligent, fiery competitor who demands respect and could help lead Miami to the NBA title.