CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Celtics guard Terry Rozier was a child growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, and later in suburban Cleveland, he would often go to gyms by himself and practice falling down.
He would fall down after shooting jump shots and he would fall down after taking difficult layups. He would keep shooting and throwing himself to the ground until his grandmother used McDonald’s hamburgers to bribe him to return home.
Rozier was small, and he believed that if he could withstand a pounding that he was giving himself, he could withstand it when others sent him to the ground, too. Mostly, though, he fell down because that is what he saw his favorite player, Dwyane Wade, do on television over and over again.
Rozier would wear sleeves over his elbow and legs like Wade, and he would wear the superstar guard’s custom white Converse sneakers. He would walk like Wade. He would do whatever he could to be just like Wade.
“All of my friends in the Cleveland area were LeBron [James] fans,” Rozier said. “But D. Wade was my guy. He was someone who had a similar style to me and someone whose game I respected, someone I liked. And he ended up winning the championship before LeBron, so I got to talk stuff.”
So for Rozier, the Celtics’ game against the Bulls last Thursday brought an unusual kind of reverence. As he took the floor and continued to model his game after Wade’s, he looked up and saw Wade in front of him, trying to score on him, trying to beat him.
As a rookie last season, Rozier played just five minutes in three games against Wade’s Miami Heat. On Thursday Rozier had 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists in 23 minutes. But Wade outplayed him, and Wade’s team won. It was a lesson for Rozier, but it was also a new memory to tuck away.
“Man, just to think back, like, I was one of the craziest D. Wade fans ever,” he said. “People don’t understand. I don’t really want to get into it too much until the day he leaves the game. Then I can really tell people how big of a fan I was. For now, I’m in the same league as him, so I’ve got to play it cool. You’ve got to compete, but out there it was still crazy.”
In October 2014, prior to Rozier’s sophomore season at the University of Louisville, the Heat played a preseason game at the Yum Center, the Cardinals’ glistening home arena that sits in the heart of the city.
Rozier’s admiration of Wade was relayed to the All-Star guard, and Wade reached out to Rozier before the game. The two talked about their similar styles of play, and Rozier peppered Wade with questions. Wade gave Rozier small tips, but tips he still leans on, like how to recover from one bad game and how to mute distractions.
Rozier decided early in his sophomore season he would probably enter the NBA Draft that year, and Wade offered occasional and simple guidance about the process via text messages.
“I remember the first day we talked like it was yesterday,” Rozier said. “If I ever needed to ask him something, he was always there to tell me advice.”
Rozier is just 22 years old and still learning the rhythm of a long and grueling NBA season. Wade turns 35 in January and continues to be a dominant and durable force.
When Rozier was a teenager, he wanted to mimic Wade’s almost reckless style of attack. As his career progresses, he believes he can learn from Wade’s longevity.
“It just shows how much not just work he puts on the court but off the court, too, to take care of his body and play that many seasons to have a long career like that,” Rozier said. “I feel like that’s everybody’s goal. You want to make as much money as you can and enjoy playing this game as much as you can, but it has a lot to do with how you take care of yourself.”
On Wednesday, Wade and the Bulls will come to TD Garden, and Rozier could find himself matched up against his idol once again. He said he will remain focused on his task, just as he was Thursday. The only accidental nod to Wade will come if he falls to the floor after attempting a shot.
“I think it’s kind of still with me when I go to the hole, I kind of fall,” Rozier said. “It’s something that just never left me.”