Beijing — Here came Exhibit A down the lane. Here came proof positive in the air. Dwyane Wade finally gave the only answer that mattered Sunday to the only question he had heard for weeks, the one that came in various forms and countries and essentially asked this:
Could Superman fly again?
Even before the game, President Bush approached Wade at his locker and alluded to the injuries. They first met 18 months ago when Wade's Heat team visited to celebrate its 2006 championship.
"Good to see you again," Bush said before the U.S. Olympic team's opening win against China, 101-70. "Last time I saw you, your arm was in a sling."
When the leader of the free world is marking time by your injuries, you know you've been laid up for awhile.
So half a world away, nearly halfway into a spectacle of a game, Wade finally was Wade again. And this snapshot that defined it most came in a one-point game. Wade had the ball out top with the left side open. He hit the accelerator and blew by his defender.
"I've got the first step back," he said.
He thundered to the basket and soared as high as his gold-medal hopes.
"I'm really jumping higher than I ever have," he said.
There he was met by the Not-So-Great Wall of former Heat teammate Wang Zhizhi. Well, sort of met. Wade used Wang as a prop in performing a two-hand backward dunk.
So is Wade back?
"Did you watch?" he asked.
He made all seven field goal attempts and all five free throws. He led the game with 19 points. He even played airtight defense on China point guard Liu Wei, pushing him to the midcourt line almost immediately after entering the game and picking his pocket for a breakaway dunk.
Be still Pat Riley's heart.
"I'm an international defender," Wade said, smiling at his more lax defensive style with the Heat. "That's my role on this team."
Let the rest of the world exaggerate the importance of this opening night between the NBA stars and home country. Chris Paul said it was "bigger than life itself."
"Was this the mother of all games?" one European reporter asked.
"Yes," Chris Bosh said.
What Heat fans cared more about was Wade's form. His own answers came after a three-game, four-night China tour in advance of the Olympics. The final morning after, he did an inventory of body parts.
His surgically repaired knee? Fine. His surgically repaired shoulder? Check. His confidence? Best in years.
"That proved to me, 'OK, I'm really good,' " he said. "A lot of people questioned me coming to the Olympics because of my health. I think it was the best thing confidence-wise to show that I'm ready to play at a high level again."
So perhaps this Olympic test that came under such question turns out to be a good thing. Perhaps instead of finishing out a dismal season and sitting out the summer, he was motivated to get his body right for this international stage. Wade says it's from dedicating himself to the weight room for the first time in his life.
"I sometimes wondered, 'Would I ever get it back?"' he said. Wade passed a checkpoint Sunday, as well as the Chinese guards on his way to the bucket.
The first step was there. His jump was back. Yes, halfway around the world, Superman flew again.