Basketball superstar Dwyane Wade says his idol Michael Jordan is one of the reasons why the sport became so popular all around the world, even in India

A famous ad jingle from the early 1990s, ‘I wanna be like Mike’, captured the dream of millions of basketball fans around the world. Everybody wanted to be Michael Jordan. The clip for the energy drink opens with a layup which still evokes awe: Jordan drives hard to the basket, takes off high with the ball in his right hand, and then makes the shot with a last-second switch to his left. A perfect imitation of this move can instantly win the respect of your peers.

In a high-school gym at Chicago, the city which won multiple NBA titles with Jordan at the forefront, a young Dwyane Wade had this move down to a science. Except, Wade was not any ordinary ‘wannabe’. This self-confessed Jordan fanatic imbibed all the qualities of his idol to become a three-time NBA champion with the Miami Heat.

The 31-year-old superstar won his first championship ring in the 2005-06 season, with a spectacular Most Valuable Player (MVP) performance in the final against the Dallas Mavericks. The guard captured his second in 2011-12, and then took his team to back-to-back titles earlier this year. Not too bad for someone who once walked, talked and stuck his tongue out like Jordan.

“For me, Jordan put basketball on the radar. He inspired so many of us; he took the sport to a whole different level. He is one of the reasons why basketball became so popular all around the world, even in India,” he says, in a telephonic interview. Apart from the ‘switch layup’, there are many more memorable Jordan moments. For Wade, his home-team’s first title stands out. “The Chicago Bulls’ first NBA championship in 1991 is my favourite Michael Jordan memory. He got so close to winning so many times before, but never got over the hump. To then beat the L.A. Lakers and Magic Johnson was the like the start of a new era.”

Wade did not have to wait for too long for his first NBA title, claiming the top-honour in only his third season. He is reluctant to compare the three championships he has won so far, as “it is thrilling every time I get to a final”.

Asked about his most-recent triumph, a wildly fluctuating and drama-filled series against San Antonio, he says: “San Antonio was an unbelievably good team. They were well coached and had some fantastic talent in the squad. So, for us to come back like we did, we were behind throughout the seven-match series, was quite an accomplishment. Everyone knows what happened in Game 6, when we won after trailing them by five points with 30 seconds remaining. To beat a great clutch team like San Antonio shows our character.”

This victory was achieved, in part, to a deal made in 2010, when D-Wade (as he is also known) and the Miami Heat welcomed the NBA’s most sought-after player, LeBron James. It can be argued that upon his arrival, James took the spotlight away from Wade, but no one can dispute the positive impact of the new addition. The duo have proved unstoppable together, and the Miami Heat are now on course for a rare three-peat (three consecutive titles). Wade states that he will continue to be part of the franchise in the coming seasons, and that contract negotiations are just part of the game. “Business is business, but my focus is on winning a three-peat with Miami.”

Wade goes on to talk about his relationship with James, whose every move is put under intense scrutiny by the media and the fans. With his combination of athleticism and talent, the world expects James to do no wrong. And when things turn out to be less-than-perfect, he bears the brunt of the blame.” In scenes which could have been lifted straight out of a mass political rally in India, angry mobs in Cleveland even burnt James’ jersey when the star was traded from that franchise to Miami.

“I admire LeBron because he has handled everything so well. Things can get crazy around him sometimes; there are very few players who face such high expectations. Everyone wants him to be different things, but he is now the player that he wants to be. I have always felt that that the only way to manage these situations is to learn by experience.”

D-Wade takes on his fair share of pressure as well, and as a 10-year veteran in the NBA, he does possess the “experience” to counter everything thrown at him. When the new season begins, his team will aim to become just the third team after the L.A. Lakers and the Chicago Bulls (they did it twice) to win three straight titles. The huge masses of Miami Heat fans have their sights set on a chance to create history, and that’s a heavy load to carry. The kid in Wade, however, says he “would not trade this for anything else in the world.”

He is living the dream, and that is just as elusive as any NBA record.