When Dwyane Wade was an NBA rookie in 2003-04, the Miami Heat started the season with seven straight losses.
“I didn’t think we were going to win a game,” Wade recalled Tuesday after the Heat’s shoot-around at Georgetown University’s McDonough Arena. “I thought we might go 0-82.”
It was after one of those early losses that Wade remembers getting a little pep talk from Kevin Garnett, who was with the Minnesota Timberwolves at the time.
“After the game he grabbed me by the head and told me, ‘Listen, no matter how bad your team looks right now, never give up on the game. Never give up on the guys. Always give it your all,’” Wade said.
Now in his 10th NBA season, Wade says it’s his responsibility to give those same words of encouragement to other young players on struggling teams – guys like Wizards guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. In fact, he recalls having a similar conversation with Wall when he was a rookie.
“I told him, ‘Look, you’ve got to always have good work habits to be a great player,’” Wade said. “Just because you have a bad record or you’re on a bad team you can’t get in the habit of being one of those players. Same thing with Bradley Beal. He’s young; he’s got a long career in this league. This year, he probably won’t remember it some day.”
At 1-13, the Wizards are off to their worst start in franchise history and thoughts of a playoff berth seem more pipe dream than reality.
Wade pointed out that the 2003-04 Heat eventually climbed their way back to respectability, finishing with a 42-40 record and securing a berth in the NBA playoffs, where they bowed out in the second round. The secret to their turnaround?
“The biggest thing is you’ve got to have people around you that believe,” Wade said. “It takes one game, one moment.”
In the case of the 2003-04 Heat it also took a coach, Steve Van Gundy, that stayed positive.
“He stayed yelling,” Wade said. “And we turned it around.”
Heat forward LeBron James went through those same dark days in his first year in Cleveland when the Cavaliers went 35-47 and failed to make the playoffs.
His advice for Wall and Beal?
“They just gotta continue to work hard,” he said. “This league is not an easy league. You have to work hard no matter what’s going on with your situation. You need to continue to improve yourself and get better and everything else will take care of itself.”