News’Flash’: NBA finds its air to the throne

By now, we’ve all heard the story of how Michael Jordan slipped to the third spot in the 1984 NBA Draft, taking a back seat to Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie, who were selected ahead of him by Houston and Portland, respectively.

Olajuwon went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Rockets, while the Blazers’ decision to go with Bowie is viewed by many as one of the biggest blunders in the history of the league. The 7-foot Kentucky standout posted a forgettable 10-year career, which was remembered more for its injuries than its highlight-reel material.

In the Blazers defense, the team already had two-time All-Star guard Jim Paxson and highly touted guard Clyde Drexler in the fold so the Bowie pick seemed like the perfect choice to fill the team’s needs at the center position.

Well, you win some and you lose some, right?

Fast forward nearly 20 years later and you’ll remember a similar story unfolding at the 2003 NBA Draft. High School phenom LeBron James took center stage that fateful night in New York, as Cleveland made him the first selection. Detroit followed with talented, but unproven import Darko Milicic, while Denver opted for Syracuse freshman and NCAA Tournament MVP Carmelo Anthony. Toronto selected Georgia Tech forward Chris Bosh with the fourth pick and Miami closed out the top five by taking Marquette junior Dwyane Wade.

The picks fell right in line with the majority of the pre-draft projections and much like the wake of the 1984 proceedings, consensus was that each player fell into the slot he should have.

Fast forward to the present and you’ll see how similar the 1984 and 2003 NBA Drafts actually were. While James has thrived in Cleveland in spite of all of the attention and “The Next Jordan” label he’s been wearing since being old enough to legally drive his Hummer, a new NBA superhero has emerged and it might only be a short time before the “What were they thinking?” chatter resurfaces in Detroit, Denver and Toronto.

“Flash” or Dwyane Wade as most know him, endured an injury-plagued rookie season, overcame the effects of a two-month extension to his first NBA season (Olympics) and has now developed into the second coming of Mr. Jordan himself. The only noticeable difference between the two appears to be that Wade is actually making his ascension to the top of the NBA at a slightly quicker pace than Jordan did.

“The one thing that some people forget about Jordan is that it took him a few years after being drafted to become one of the greatest basketball players to ever step on the court and a six-time champion,” Topps spokesman Clay Luraschi said.

While there are a handful people out there who contend they saw Wade’s meteoric rise to the top of the NBA food chain coming, few could have predicted he would develop the impressive all-around game that would lead to comparisons to the game’s all-time best.

Rich Altman of Hollywood Collectibles was one of the first to board the Wade bandwagon. Altman signed the former Marquette star to an exclusive deal to produce his autographed and memorabilia items for the 2004-05 season after his rookie campaign and is one of those who believes Wade’s potential is limitless.

“At the beginning of last year when he was first drafted by the Heat, I saw a little bit of that talent, but I noticed he had something different about him than most of the other rookies,” Altman said. “LeBron and Carmelo were the ones getting all of the attention and most people outside of Wisconsin and Illinois where he’s from, didn’t know much about him because he wasn’t getting the national attention those guys were. After he shined in last year’s playoffs, you started to see his card values go up and I bought up as many of his rookie cards as I could find. After the Shaq trade, I knew that was going to do nothing but help him develop even quicker.”

Many will point to the fact that playing alongside arguably the game’s best center in O’Neal has made the transition to the pinnacle of the league a relatively easy one, but few can argue with the level of play Wade has flashed this postseason in the Diesel’s absence.
“Wade has progressed further from his rookie season to his second season than any player I’ve ever seen,” Tuff Stuff basketball pricing analyst Steve Bloedow said. “This year, he’s been as dominant as anyone in the league. His flair for making great plays and highlight-film dunks is enough to attract a huge following, but he’s a great team player that has a complete game. He’s actually far more unselfish than Jordan was early in his career.”

Wade’s eight-plus assist average in the first two rounds of the playoffs demonstrates his selfless nature and the ability to make those around him better, while his 28.6 scoring average and 52 percent field goal average is further evidence of his Jordan-like ability to take over a team, series and an entire postseason.

“A few of us NBA junkies have known he (Wade) was special for two years now. In my opinion, he’s a really special player,” longtime card dealer and noted Star Co. card expert Steve Taft said. “He’s obviously not a Hall of Famer yet, but he really intrigues me how he can impact on games even when he’s not scoring 35 or 40 points a game. He can impact a game in so many ways and that’s the sign of a true superstar.”

Another dependable barometer used to gauge a player’s status in the league is looking into what prices the player’s trading cards are fetching. Wade’s 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection card (No. 74) is currently selling in the $2,200 range, with his UD Ultimate Collection (No. 131) and Bowman Chrome (No. 149) offerings going for $750 and $1,000, respectively. James remains the top dog with his 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection card fetching $3,000, with Wade edging closer as quickly as his first step to the hoop.

“Wade is kind of the anti-Kobe. He’s a humble, team player who is just enjoying the fact that his team is successful whether he is the the primary scorer or the one who’s setting up others,” Bloedow said. “His great attitude is a big reason why he’s so popular, and it’s helped him become the hottest player in the basketball card market.

“LeBron dominated the rookie card market last season with all the hype coming in, and Carmelo was the only other guy close to him. This year, Wade has vaulted to the top in popularity and his values have long since passed Carmelo and are closing the gap on LeBron.”
Jordan’s legacy within the league remains as solid as ever despite his mediocre (for him) two-year stint with the Wizards and is equally reliable in the card market. A 1986-87 Jordan Fleer rookie in NM/M condition falls somewhere in the $700-800 range, while his first card – the 1984-85 Star card – adds approximately $2,000 to the Fleer card purchase price. A Fleer rookie graded 9.5 by BGS recently sold for $19,793 (See Auction Circuit on page 16), proving Jordan’s staying power within the hobby.

“There’s always one or two guys each NBA season who catch fire on eBay, and Wade’s this year’s LeBron,” online auction guru Don Fluckinger said. “Next year, it could be one of the Baby Bulls. The one possible knock on Wade is that the analysts wonder if he’d be so great, so soon if he didn’t have Shaq as a sidekick. I think the Heat’s winning without Shaq during the playoffs gives us a good indication that the hobby enthusiasm surrounding the guy is well-founded. Only time will tell, but he’s looking pretty good.”

Although times have changed dramatically in the league and within the hobby since Jordan first arrived, Taft has noticed some parallels between the two as far as their place in the NBA’s pecking order in the card market.

“Other players like Magic and Bird were better sellers when Jordan first came into the league and it wasn’t until 1988 or 1989 after the Hoops David Robinson rookie card came out that things really started to take off,” Taft said. “By 1989 the Hoops and Fleer issues got hot and it was at about that time that the Jordan stuff really took off.”

In much the same way that Jordan had Magic and Bird to help shoulder the burden of carrying the NBA to new heights early on in his career, the proclamation of James as being the “second coming” and the hype surrounding Carmelo has helped Wade ease his transition into superstardom.

“The one thing about LeBron is that there are so many expectations of him,” Luraschi said. “When Jordan came into the league, you had Bird vs. Magic so the spotlight was not on Jordan right away.”

Factor in that Wade plays along the most dominating post player in the game and you have the perfect recipe for a Jordan-like sequel that is currently playing to rave reviews at a South Beach theatre near you.

“Yeah, I was a still a little surprised with how great he has been,” Altman said. “He’s definitely a star right now. He was voted to the second team All-NBA Team and the second team All-Defensive Team and he’s receiving a lot of accolades as of late and he’s deserving of them all.”

If the humble, 23-year-old from Chicago’s inner city continues to develop at his current pace, it won’t be long before the chatter in the league shifts from “Who’s the next Jordan?” to “Who’s the next Dwyane Wade?” For those of you who haven’t jumped aboard the bandwagon, do so quickly because seats are disappearing as quickly as his first step.

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