Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade is (almost) at the top of his game. But no matter how far he goes, he always comes home to Chicago. Just don't ask him where to get a slice of pizza.

It would have been natural, or at least understandable, for Dwyane Wade to outgrow his hometown. He's from Chicago, an impressive city to be sure, but these days Wade seems just as big as the urban sprawl he hails from. As a member of the Miami Heat, the diminutive guard (well, he's generously listed at six feet four, but that's still more or less tiny by NBA standards) is considered to be one of the best young basketball players in the world. Actually, he's deemed one of the best players, period - regardless of age.

In Wade's first season, after slashing this way and that and showing up more than a few of the older guards he matched up against, he was a unanimous first-team All-Rookie selection. He parlayed that success into a spot on the 2004 United States Olympic team, making the trip to Athens to represent his country (though coach Larry Brown buried him on the bench). Last season, when everyone was buzzing about his ability, when everyone was talking about his being the league's next big thing, he was selected to appear in his first NBA All-Star game. (Wade was named to his second All-Star game in February.)

But last year had its disappointments for Wade too. He and the Heat were just one game removed from playing in the 2005 NBA Finals, one game away from Wade realizing a dream, from playing on his sport's biggest stage. But, try as he did, fate intervened in the form of the defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons, and Wade and his boys were sent home. No championship. No parade. No nothing.

The Heat didn't win, but, in a way, Wade did. Those who didn't know about Wade finally figured out what everyone else already knew: The man has some serious skills. If it was possible for Wade to get any bigger, for his peers to think any more of him, or for the media to demand any more of his time, it happened after the NBA Finals. Wade was made - if he hadn't been already.

Wade is famous enough now that, just like big-body, big-personality teammate Shaquille O'Neal, he is deemed worthy of a one-word moniker. And his is unquestionably cooler than Shaq's. Wade goes by Flash, same as the comic-book character, the one too fast to see, too agile to stop. You can't fake the funk and still have people name you after a superhero, dig?

So it wouldn't have been surprising if Wade, who spends much of the year in Miami, had let all his money and notoriety go to his head. It wouldn't have been surprising if he had jetted off to Europe in the off-­season instead of kicking it with his ­childhood friends in the same setting where he grew up - in Robbins, a suburb just south of Chicago. It wouldn't have been surprising if he actually bought into the whole Flash thing, started believing he was a real superman, and forgot about Chicago altogether. Yeah, he could have fallen for the typical trappings of fame - $500 bottles of liquor, fancy-schmancy L.A. parties, chauffeurs, and caviar dreams, perhaps.

But that's not him. That's not D-Wade. (That's his other nickname. The man has two. Hard to pull off.) He was, and still is, proud of being homegrown, proud of being identified as a product of Chicago, just like another buddy who also comes from the Windy City: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

"Oh yeah, we always have Chicago love for each other," Wade says from - where else? - Chicago. It's just before the 2005-2006 season. He's spending time with his family and friends, just as he does every year when the hectic pace of the NBA season gives way to the more tranquil summer months. He likes to play in the NBA, he says. Loves it. And how could he not? But getting some free time at home, in this city, his city, well, it's just hard to beat that, he says.

"Every time you see someone from home, it's always the same thing - we just have love for each other," Wade continues. "We have the city in common. There's something about the city that, no matter where you are or where you move to, you always say you're from Chicago. That never goes away. You see someone from home, and it's like 'Hey, Chi-town.' That's how we greet people - 'Chi-town.' "

This, then, is D-Wade's favorite city. His city. His Chi-town.