Three-time Heat champion wanted to be 'selfish' with decision to return home to help Chicago franchise transition into new look
POSTED: Jul 30, 2016 12:39 AM ET
CHICAGO — Near the end of Michael Jordan's time in Chicago, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf signed him to a pair of one-year contracts worth $30 million (1996-97) and $33 million (1997-98), not just for what Jordan would do in those two seasons -- he wound up doing a lot -- but in recognition of all he had done for the franchise in his first 11.
The Los Angeles Lakers did pretty much the same thing for Kobe Bryant two years ago, signing him to a two-year deal worth $48.5 million. At age 36 and 37, Bryant wasn't the player he had been -- he shot 36 percent and needed 18.5 shots to average 19.1 points, while missing 63 of 164 games -- but the deal was a nod to what Bryant had meant to that organization.
Dirk Nowitzki cashed in just last week, getting a two-year, $50 million package from Dallas. The Mavericks know they won't be getting prime Dirk, but their franchise guy will be raking in the fattest salaries near the end of what by then will be a 20-year career.
Dwyane Wade also got one of those gold-watch contracts this summer. Considering all Wade has meant to the Miami Heat -- the young hero of its first championship in 2006, the recruiter who pulled in LeBron James and Chris Bosh for two more and the most significant pro athlete ever in South Florida, period -- it seemed only proper that Wade be rewarded not just for what he might do this season and next in the twilight of another Hall-bound career but for all his services rendered since 2003.
Especially since the Chicago Bulls will be the ones paying it.
Wade was introduced Friday -- wait, that's the wrong word for one of the NBA's most familiar faces, so let's say reacquainted with Chicago media at a news conference at the Bulls downtown practice facility. The theme of the 45-minute "presser" was hometown-kid-returns, and strictly speaking, there's no denying the truth of that. Wade was born in Chicago, grew up in the south suburb of Robbins, and went to Richards H.S. in neighboring Oak Lawn.
But he left Chicagoland after graduating to attend Marquette University in Milwaukee. After leading that school to the Final Four, the 6-foot-4 guard was drafted fifth overall in 2003 by Miami. And over the past 13 years, Wade established himself as the face, heart and soul of the Heat, stacking up 12 All-Star appearances alongside those three Larry O'Brien trophies.
Because Wade's Miami teams were in direct conflict with the Bulls for much of his career, his roots mattered less to the fans at United Center than the city and logos on his uniform. He routinely was booed and, more than once, rather awkwardly, he was cheered when he fell or was knocked to the floor and it appeared he might be hurt too badly to continue. Wade even let on how that stung, coming in the building where he once had dreamed of playing and winning.
That was the dream-come-true of which he spoke Friday.
"I'm a Chicago guy, Chicago kid. I grew up here," Wade said, before a fleet of cameras, a gang of reporters and lots of family. "I remember sitting on the floor when I could sit Indian-style and watching the Chicago Bulls win their first championship. I was 9 years old.
"We had this little-bitty TV -- it's about as big as an iPhone now -- I remember looking at it and saying, 'That's what I want to do, that's what I want to be. I want to be a champion and that's who I want to do it with.' My dream of becoming an NBA player started here in my hometown."
No one wants to be overly cynical, so if Wade really is scratching an itch -- and maybe extending his brand to another major market for the growing conglomerate that he and many of his peers have become -- by playing next season in Chicago, good for him.
That doesn't paper over suspicions, though, that he signed with the Bulls out of spite when the Heat and president Pat Riley didn't make him a higher priority when free agency opened July 1. Or that the Bulls had ulterior motives in their own right besides landing a player whom they'd had in their sights twice before.
I'm a Chicago guy, Chicago kid. I grew up here. I remember sitting on the floor when I could sit Indian-style and watching the Chicago Bulls win their first championship. I was 9 years old.
– Dwyane Wade on joining the Bulls
Wade tamped down a few questions Friday about the breakdown in his negotiations with the Heat. Reminded that Riley later expressed -- sincerely or not -- some regrets that he hadn't been more involved in the talks, Wade said he had been fine hashing out particulars with owner Mickey Arison and son Nick.
"This year, the direction and focus for that organization in Miami -- which I have nothing but respect for and love for -- was a little different than it has been in years past," Wade said. "My focus and direction was a little different than it's been in years past. ... I had a contract offer in Miami I could have took. I decided not to take it. It was my decision to be selfish and live out a dream of mine."
"So let's clear up the notion that Pat Riley orchestrated me getting out of Miami because he didn't offer me the money I wanted," Wade added. "This was not a money deal for me."
Good thing, since $47 million living and working in Chicago, with city and state taxes, doesn't net out to that much more than the $40 million the Heat reportedly offered.
The Bulls weren't asked directly about adding Wade more as a gate attraction than as a great get for a wannabe contender. But it's hard to see how Wade and Rajon Rondo, teaming up in all their limited-shooting-range ball domination with kindred spirit Jimmy Butler, is going to unlock coach Fred Hoiberg's preferred high-octane offense. In fact, the Bulls might be further away from flexing that rumored pace-and-space "Hoiball" attack than they were a year ago, when it barely showed itself with a much different Chicago roster.
Gar Forman, the Bulls' general manager, talked about Wade's expected contributions both on the court and off it, working with teammates still on training wheels. "We've got 10 players with three or fewer years of experience," Forman said.
They had those young guys before they signed Wade and Rondo, by the way. But they also had, several sources claimed, a drop in season-ticket renewals steep enough to spook them into luring a couple high-profile names.
With the championship window of the Tom Thibodeau-era closed, with popular players Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol gone, the Bulls were slipping into irrelevance on the Chicago sports scene. Filling cavernous United Center remains a top priority, win or lose.
If Wade is able to influence young Bulls players such as Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine, that will be good. If some of his professionalism rubs off on Jimmy Butler, his fellow Marquette alum whose ego got out in front of him last season; that will be even better.
If Wade is able to stay nearly as healthy as he was last season -- the first one in five in which he played more than 69 games -- bringing him home to reconnect with his feelings for Chicago might be worth it. And with Wade as a pitchman, if this somehow enhances the Bulls' chances of luring other notable, and maybe in their prime, free agents in 2017 and beyond -- a glaring deficiency for such a storied franchise in a major market -- it might actually be worth all $47 million.
But until that happens, as cozy as the Bulls-Wade relationship is right now, it still smacks of two jilted or hurting parties coming together on the rebound, in a marriage of convenience. Wade's ability to opt-out next summer isn't exactly a pre-nuptial, but it does cast a little doubt on the permanence of this union.
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