Wade inspires Heat with ring revelation

DALLAS -- The proposal came nearly two months ago, after dinner, on the eve of the NBA playoffs.

That's when Dwyane Wade brought out the ring, slipped it on his finger -- in all of its blissful bling -- and made the championship vow in front of all of his Miami Heat teammates.

It was a special, calculated occasion for Wade, who doesn't even remember the last time he removed his 2006 NBA championship ring from the safe deposit box prior to the night he flashed it for his teammates during their final function before the start of the postseason.

"Before that, it's been a couple of years, actually, since I've seen it and put it on," Wade said, staring into the distance. "I'm not sure when it was."

Amnesia must have been a bit contagious.

When it comes to details of that night, Heat forward Chris Bosh can't recall what was on the menu at the dinner. But the only food for thought that mattered on April 15 -- the night before Game 1 of the Heat's opening-round series against Philadelphia -- was the diamond-studded dish Wade was serving.

"Right after we had dinner, everyone started talking and he brought it out," Bosh said, as he described the hush that fell over the private dining room. "It was an attention grabber, for sure. Everybody got quiet and started looking at it. We were like, 'OK, where are you going with this? OK, this is serious.'"

All of the jiving and joking in the room ceased.

"It was all visualization," Bosh continued. "It was basically [Wade's] way of saying, 'So if you tell me you want something, and I have it, and I'm in this with you, and I bring that thing out and you see it, what does that mean?' And you're sitting there looking at him like, 'Yeah, that's what it's about right there. Man, you're going to do that to me with the ring, huh?' It was motivation. You want it more."

Aside from Wade, only two other players in the room that night could comprehend both the power that a championship ring holds and the ultimate price and sacrifice a competitor has to pay to get one of his own.

Heat forward Udonis Haslem, the only other roster holdover from Miami's 2006 championship run, keeps his ring in a safe in his home and has used the combination to open it only a couple of times in the five years since that team received them on Oct. 31, 2006.

Journeyman guard Eddie House, who is in his second stint with the Heat, has taken a more public approach with the prized possession he won with the Boston Celtics during their 2008 title season.

But the 12 other members of Miami's team -- including two-time MVP LeBron James and 17-year veteran Juwan Howard -- took in the moment heading into the playoffs with both astonishment and envy as Wade delivered a message of motivation and purpose with just a simple flash of his finger.

"You first see the ring, and it's a sign of accomplishment, a sign of success," Wade told ESPN.com amid the Heat's quest for a second championship in a NBA Finals rematch with the Mavericks. "You understand that right now, in the midst of playing, you might not look at the ring every day. But you understand and appreciate what it means beyond the game of basketball."

For Wade, a list of those meanings could stretch the length of a basketball court.

The ring signifies both his arrival as well as his departure.

That championship ring places Wade, who was also named MVP of the 2006 NBA Finals, among some exclusive company of contemporary peers such as Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Paul Pierce, who have all established a championship jewelry collection since Wade entered the league in 2003.

The ring also removes Wade, already, from the list of potential NBA greats who lack a championship on an otherwise impeccable résumé. Players on that list include Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley.

"Obviously, it puts you in a special category," Wade said. "If you're a great player, and there are many great players that haven't won rings, it's never going to take away from them being great players. But when you win a ring, you automatically go in a different kind of category. You start competing with those guys who have rings, who are champions. In a sense, yes, it does define your career."

Yet, at the same time, Wade is also sensitive to those who haven't crossed that title threshold. Among them are players such as Bosh, James and Carmelo Anthony, three other elite members of that talented 2003 draft class who desperately search for what Wade already possesses.

After failing in their individual pursuits of a championship ring the past seven seasons, Bosh and James hooked up with Wade in free agency to sign with the Heat in a move some view as a shortcut to a title.

James, who was denied a ring when the San Antonio Spurs swept his Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 Finals, doesn't buy into that logic. He knows he needed help to take home Wade's kind of hardware.

"I just want to win," James said. "I think my individual stats will take care of itself. This is a team game. My résumé will speak for itself after I'm done with this game. What me and my teammates are trying to accomplish now is the only thing I'm worried about."

The term "worry" wouldn't necessarily describe James' attitude back in July, when he was ridiculed in some circles for saying the Heat would win, "not one, not two, not three," but upward of seven or eight championships in the coming years. At the time, Wade could only shake his head and laugh as he sat alongside James on that stage during Miami's signing-day celebration.

Wade knew how hard it was to win one ring. And it's taken him five years to get a crack at a second.

"Despite what you do as a player, and what all these greats have done as players, everyone can't win a ring," Wade said. "It doesn't work out that way. Someone will have the short end of the stick. But, it will complete an unbelievable career if you're able to get that."

Having one ring creates a craving for another. That's what brought House back to Miami on a discounted, veteran's minimum salary.

"I wore my ring the year after we won it, but every time I wore it, we lost the game," House said. "So I stopped wearing it as much. But after you win one, and see a couple of years go past, you realize how hard it was to get the one you have. It's a greater appreciation and a greater hunger for that next one."

Seeing Wade's ring made Bosh want to strive harder for his first one. He's seen the rings worn by others in the Heat's organization. Alonzo Mourning occasionally wears his. Team president Pat Riley brought his collection of seven championship rings he won as a player and coach on the recruiting trail in luring Bosh and James to Miami.

But there was something different about Wade's ring revelation.

"None of us had ever seen his before," Bosh said. "It was five years old, but it was still nice. It still had that special shine to it."

Wade hopes it had a special impact, as well.

"It's all about hard work and dedication," Wade said. "I looked at the ring and all I thought about was all the times when people said you wouldn't, you couldn't or you shouldn't. You look at it, and you just remember all the doubt you had to overcome, all the things like that that went through your mind."