It does seem predestined, somehow, that Dwyane Wade is back in Miami, now, way before anyone thought the 36-year-old would come back to town.
Most everyone figured there’s be some kind of valedictory, a final lap when Wade was ready to retire, a ceremonial last contract with the team that took him with the fifth pick of the historic 2003 Draft, and for the player who became the most important player in the franchise’s history (with all due respect to Alonzo Mourning, Glen Rice, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James).
But that was supposed to happen down the road, not when Wade still had some tread left on his tires. It didn’t work for him in Cleveland and few thought it really would, with him starting, and then coming off the bench (though he actually wasn’t that bad defensively). But when Cleveland’s General Manager Koby Altman blew up his underachieving team, he did Wade the solid of sending him home for nothing, really, something that went over well in the Wade household.
🌞🌞🌞🔥🔥🔥🌴🌴🌴 305 HOME!!!! Let's goooooooo HEAT!!!! Can't. Wait.— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) February 8, 2018
Yet Wade hasn’t been back just for the fun and games. Life has smashed all South Florida in the face, with the horrific killing of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 -- an awful Valentine’s Day. One of the kids killed, 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver, had just become a U.S. citizen, and he was a huge Wade fan. His parents buried their son in Wade’s jersey. It tied Wade up in knots emotionally, as you’d expect; he dedicated the rest of the season to Joaquin and has done more than send thoughts and prayers. He met Joaquin’s parents (as did his mother) and gave them a pair of custom-made shoes; he paid a surprise visit to the school last Friday; he had an exhibit honoring the slain students set up this past weekend at Miami’s Art Walk in the Wynwood neighborhood. He and his wife donated $200,000 toward defraying the expenses of local teenagers who are planning to go to the march in Washington, D.C. and other cities in two weeks supporting gun control reform, got a commitment from the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Carmelo Anthony and challenged other NBA stars to pony up.
In the midst of all that, he’s not just been a show pony for the Heat. He’s not the Finals MVP from 2006 anymore, but he can do so many things that were familiar to the Heat during their glory days. Not much homework was required -- “we know him as well as anybody,” Coach Erik Spoelstra said last week. “He’s a family member, so we know how he is. It’s also not like we didn’t keep in touch.” Wade’s already helped win a couple of games off the bench -- 27 points in 25 minutes against the 76ers; 16 points and six rebounds a few days later to help throttle Philly again. It has followed that the often-somnolent home crowds in Miami have reawakened, seeing not an apparition but a still-capable veteran, grateful to be home but aware that more is required of him these days than leading the Heat on a postseason run.
Me: What are those moments like for you now, when the crowd is getting up and cheering even before you take off the warmups?
Dwyane Wade: It’s special, you know? It’s something (different) about me when I have a Heat jersey on than when I had the Bulls or Cleveland jersey on. I’ve been to all these cities. I’ve been on the road. It’s just something about Dwyane Wade with Miami on his chest. Our fans are amazing. It’s definitely, a night like tonight when you’re on a back to back and you’re coming in late. But when you hear the crowd behind you and they’re cheering, you get up, it gives you that extra motivation and energy to give them everything you have. ‘Cause they came to see you. Might be their first time, you don’t know.
Me: I think we all figured you’d wind up back here at some point, but did you think it would be this soon?
DW: Nah. I mean, when I made the decision to go to Cleveland, I didn’t think it would be this season. Definitely, I knew, I always wanted it to be one day. I think it was just perfect timing, too. It was just right, the timing to come back. Everything works out in its weird ways. I definitely think the timing was better than if I had come back at the beginning of the year. For the city, the state and the team, I felt like my leadership, my voice, my face was needed at that time I came back.
Me: But in coming back, to that team as opposed to any other, how did you reconcile the fact that you can’t be that guy you were in 2009, 2010? I can’t be the Finals MVP. I have to be the best version of who I am now.
DW: I’m a realist. I’m real to myself. I know who I am. I’ve always been that way. I look in the mirror every day at myself, and if I can’t tell myself who and what I am, then no one can. I’ve always been able to look in the mirror and say all right, this is where you are, this is where you are, this is where you are. And try to put myself in a position where I get the best out of where I am, and also the team that I play for gets the best of what I am. Coming back to Miami at this time, for me, it’s selfless, man. I just want to help this team win, and I don’t really care about how many minutes I play right now, how many shots I get. I’m just taking what the game gives me. Last night, nine shots. Tonight, probably more. So each game is different and I’m trying to do whatever I can each game to help this team get to the point where they’re in the playoffs.
I love athletes today, nowadays, feeling confident to step up and stand out, and talk about things that they believe in."
Me: Whatever needs doing that night?
DW: Whatever needs doing that night. That’s what my dad told me. When I first started playing basketball, my dad was the first one who was never, never patted me on the back when I scored 30. He always wanted me to be a complete player; he always wanted me to be a team player. I didn’t get it early on, and as I got to high school, my high school coach was the same way. My college coach was the same way. So I’ve always been, whatever the team needs, I play a team sport. I don’t play an individual sport. And you can still get everything you want in the midst of that. You can still star in it. It hasn’t changed anything in my life, coming off the bench, at all. I understand that.
Me: How important was it for you that your kids got to see you in that uniform again?
DW: I think especially for my oldest son, Zaire, I think it was great. Obviously me being home, but it’s just like everyone else -- I look right to him in a Heat jersey. He’s getting older, he’s 16 years old, and he got to feel the love. My youngest son Zion, he gets to feel the love of the city. They come home and we’re talking, and he says ‘dad, everyone’s so happy you’re back.’ It has to feel good for them as well. I know as a 36-year-old athlete, to still have my kids proud of me and not saying little smart comments like kids do, it feels good.
Me: You mentioned that this was the right time to come back. Was that especially acute given what happened at Stoneman Douglas, and with the young man that really was a fan of yours that was killed in the shooting?
DW: Something’s going on in the world, and it speaks to you. You try to get involved and you try to get into it. When something happens in your backyard, it’s even tougher. We represent, the Miami Heat represents the state of Florida. And not just on the entertainment side, off the court. And I’ve learned that from the Miami Heat organization. This situation happened, and you start hearing all the stories from all the kids. From a basketball side, and being fans of mine and the Miami Heat, the only thing we can do for the families is to honor them -- obviously by the way we play, but honoring the school. Putting the hashtag on my shoes. Honoring a young man who was buried in my jersey. Continuing to make sure that the kids who was lost, that their legacy in life continues to live on. Just keep talking about them, moreso than the one who took their lives. Let’s not put the light on him; let’s put it on the 17 young lives that was lost. It’s definitely, myself and Udonis (Haslem) and other guys that’s been trying to do things to impact the families, try to impact the community as much as possible during this tough time. It’s our duty, I feel, as public figures and figureheads in the state to do that.
Me: And not shut up and dribble.
DW: Definitely. We’re never going to do that. I love athletes today, nowadays, feeling confident to step up and stand out, and talk about things that they believe in. We’re, we might make a lot of money, we might be on TV, we might be looked at, but we’re part of the community. We hear the community. We hear what everybody’s talking about. And we understand that their voices might not be heard the way our voices would be heard. Like I said, it’s my duty to speak for them as well. We might not have the same challenges that our community is having, but it’s our job to not only give back and do things that we do, but also be the voice and be the face for our community. And that’s what we’re doing.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
I AM HERE AT THE STAPLES CENTER PERSONALLY RECRUITING LEBRON JAMES TO PLAY FOR THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS pic.twitter.com/ZdKMLIuTs2— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) March 10, 2018
-- Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu), Tuesday, 3 p.m. Well, at least it’s different from “LeBron to the Lakers” or “LeBron to the Sixers” or “LeBron to the Rockets.” He could have been a hell of a tight end if he’d gone that route, to be sure.
THEY SAID IT
“It’s not even worth talking about those Magic years, and it’s definitely not worth talking about those Knicks years. That part of the story is like the end of Goodfellas, when everybody’s getting jammed up and ratting on each other and they’re driving around looking up in the sky for police helicopters. It was a mess, man. I got to both of those teams, and it takes you like five minutes of being in the locker room before you realize: Nope. No wins here.”
-- Former Houston Rockets star Steve Francis, in The Players’ Tribune, recalling some of his wild ride from the streets of D.C. as a kid, to being a Lottery pick of the Grizzlies, to playing with Yao Ming in Houston, to being unceremoniously dumped to Orlando late in his career, to being done at age 32.
"I can't control what the other team's gonna fee. I'm just gonna go out there and hoop and whoever takes it to heart and takes their losses salty, I can't do anything about that."
-- Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, to the Los Angeles Times’ Tania Ganguli, after Lakers coach Luke Walton said that Murray had, for the second time this season, been “disrespectful” to his team in the waning moments of a game, both Denver victories.
“We know we’ve disappointed the fans and we haven’t won enough. I can tell you this team works really hard and Stan works hard. He’s been here for four years and has dedicated his whole life. We talked the other day and I’m not giving up on Stan and I’m not giving up on this team.”
-- Pistons owner Tom Gores, to local reporters, in the midst of what looks like another year without a playoff berth for Detroit, which has made the postseason just once in Stan Van Gundy’s first three years there as team president and coach.
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