Dwyane Wade knows the clock is ticking on his NBA career.
He started the countdown in September, when he announced that his 16th season would be his last.
He wasn’t wild about the idea of a farewell tour, complete with all the bells and whistles that accompany the end of a career for a future Hall of Famer.
But the three-time champion and Miami Heat icon (how many Florida counties have been nicknamed by the masses in your honor?) said something inside of him made it clear that now was the time to complete this part of his journey.
As for what comes next, well, that’s the fun part. At 36, Wade insists he is far from done with basketball. His son, Zaire, has made sure that the family legacy will carry on in some form or fashion. The Class of 2020 point guard has been turning heads on the grassroots circuit since middle school.
The elder Wade, The Finals MVP in 2006, spent some time reflecting his own career, the state of the game now and in the future, and more with NBA.com’s Sekou Smith.
* * *
Sekou Smith: You've already announced your retirement, but have you come to grips with the fact that almost everything you do this season is going to be your last “everything,” so to speak?
Dwyane Wade: Yeah, not yet, really. I mean, I’m at peace with it. I took a long time deciding if I was going to make this my last season and come back and play or what I was going to do. So, as I can be, because I don’t know what it is not to play, right now I’m at peace with it. But I don’t know how I’m going to feel next year [laughing]. But for this year, right now, I’m okay with it.
SS: You look around the league at your contemporaries, at guys who have been in the league for as long as you have or longer, and everybody seems to age differently. Some guys still look spry and other guys, you can tell the years have taken a toll on their bodies. Some guys can still play at that highest level and some guys simply cannot.
DW: Yeah, [Le]Bron [James] just hasn’t lost any athleticism … maybe a little bit, but not a lot. He’s been blessed. But it’s definitely a young man’s game and a young man’s league, there is no argument there. But you still have guys that can play, that can contribute in all different ways. You have a guy like LeBron who is in his 16th year and still leading a team, and still one of the best in the league. And then there’s a guy like ‘Melo [Carmelo Anthony] who scored 28 the other night off the bench or whether it’s a guy like myself, who can still get it going. Guys have different ways they can help teams as they get further in their careers. Look at Vince Carter helping this young [Atlanta Hawks] team. There’s an opportunity for you to be there if you keep your body in good shape and if you evolve with the game. And I think that’s one thing I’ve tried to do over the years is try to evolve with the game over the course of my career, as my body has changed and really the game has changed.
You have to find something else that excites you, that makes you get out of bed every single day with that fire in your eyes. But you won’t ever get this again."
SS: When you make that decision to retire, how long after that do your start seriously thinking about what is you are going to do next? Once you actually retire, there is no NBA schedule to adhere to, no daily routine you have to follow to transition from one season to the next. What fills that void for you as an elite athlete?
DW: Yeah, it’s crossed my mind, because as you walk away from something you’ve done your whole life, you have those moments where it’s like, ‘What the hell am I doing to do next?’ Sure, I’ve got business interests and all sorts of things. But what am I going to do to fill the void of 20,000 people cheering or 20,000 people booing? And you realize that you will not fill that void. You have to find something else that excites you, that makes you get out of bed every single day with that fire in your eyes. But you won’t ever get this again. I’ve talked to enough older guys over the years to know that. You’ll never fill that void.
SS: So what advice would 2018 Dwyane Wade give to rookie Dwyane Wade, in terms of the things you need to be ready for over the course of the next 16 years?
DW: I guess it would probably be more off-the-court stuff. You know, when I came into this league nobody told me how to handle this stuff. I didn’t know many NBA players if any at all really. I didn’t grow up with a father that played in the NBA or an uncle or even a close family friend. So really it would be stuff off the court. Learn the hard stuff. Watch your money, you know, pay attention to how you spend your money. I guess, family, definitely don’t mix business and family [laughing]. Don’t ever do that. It would be a lot of things away from basketball, just things everybody needs to know as you grow from a young man into true adulthood.
On the court, the message would be simple: just do what I did. I put myself in a position where people have talked about me being one of the top three shooting guards to ever play this game and to have an opportunity to further honor what I’ve done as a player after I’m actually done playing this game. That’s amazing in itself for where I came from. So yeah, on the court, I’d say just go out there and be a young bull. Play your heart out. And off the court, I’d say watch everybody, watch out for yourself in everything you do.
I want to see him in the green room [at the Draft]. I want to see him go through his rookie season. I want to see him play against his favorite player and guys he’s growing up around in the locker room at the All-Star Games. I do, I really want it for him."
SS: That’s interesting. You talk about not knowing anyone in the NBA as you were growing up and now, you and LeBron (and some of your contemporaries) have sons that will grow up with fathers who chased and realized that dream of playing at the highest level. Does that stir up the juices in you to make sure you mentor your own son along the way, knowing that he has a chance to potentially play this game at a high level?
DW: Oh yeah. Absolutely. You know what’s crazy, and it’s hard to say this, but I swear -- and I’m sure ‘Bron feels or will feel the same way if you asked him -- you’ve wanted it for yourself. You’ve put in the work for years and grinded away, so you know what it takes and how difficult a road it can be to actually get to the NBA. But I want it for my son in a way that is unhealthy. You know what I mean? I want my son to be able to experience this dream. And this is his dream. To be able to experience this … man. I want to be there, too. I want to see him in the green room [at the Draft]. I want to see him go through his rookie season. I want to see him play against his favorite player and guys he’s growing up around in the locker room at the All-Star Games. I do, I really want it for him. So it’s exciting to be able to be a part of something my son really enjoys doing. Obviously, it’s a passion I share with him. But just being able to watch him now at this stage, watching him put the work in and the grind … it’s just a great time for me as his father. I can’t wait to be able to do that more.
SS: It’s crazy that kids of his generation are able to track their progress the way they can in this digital and social media age. You see how much better some of these young kids get from year to year, month to month even, and it's mind-boggling. That’s a luxury or a curse, depending on your perspective, you didn't have 20 years ago.
DW: Look, I knew who was in my district. And I barely knew that. But yeah, they get a global view of the game and what’s going on all around them at all times. They get to compare themselves against this guy in Los Angeles when you live on the other side of the country. Or a guy from Canada or wherever. And they get to play against each other now with the grassroots circuit. It’s so much different now compared to when we were growing up. So yeah, it’s just a different time. And man, the talent these kids have way exceeds our talents at that same stage. Just their skills. I mean, everybody’s got a personal trainer and all of the moves. I didn’t have all that. I learned in the backyard with my dad teaching me. I didn’t learn with professional trainers and all that. But it’s the culture now. That’s where we’re at. It’s a different day. And that’s what you see in the NBA right now.
SS: In what way?
DW: We’re at a place right now in the league where if you have talent, you can succeed. And I’m not knocking it. It’s just what it is. When I came in it was different. It was more of a thinking man’s game. It was different rules to the game, you know, with hand-checking and everything. It was more of a man’s league, per say. But now, if you have talent in this league, you’ve got one-on-one abilities, you can succeed. If you’ve got one talent, just one thing you do special, you can be great. If that talent is just setting the pick and roll and then jumping as high as I can for a lob, you can do it and you can make $200 million doing it. It’s just a different day. And there’s nothing wrong with it. The game changes for every generation. So I hope my son can get a little of this NBA action, because I think it’s going to be a really fun era to play in and be a part of.
Sooner or later something will click, some team, some coach or some transcendent player will come along and they’re going to change the game. ... So you really just never know where the game is going next. But rest assured wherever it goes, it’s going to a fun ride for everybody."
SS: Did you feel the twists and turns of the game during your career, the changing of the way teams played, the way the game was played, in real time?
DW: Oh yeah. It shifted a lot of times during my career, some shifts harder than others, but you knew it. Remember, I was a point guard my first year and we ran Turn-Five to the bigs. Throw it to the big man, do what you do and get out of the way. Then it shifted, guys like myself, and the pick-and-roll era kicked in hard. We come in and start running like 50 or 60 pick and rolls a night. And then it changed from there. Another change in the evolution was bigger guys running the point. And, of course, the 3-point shooting era, the pace-and-space. All of that within a 15-year span. So there have been so many changes to the game, but it’s been cool not only to watch but also to be a part of. Because just as a fan, you’ve got to love this 3-point generation with [Stephen] Curry and Klay [Thompson] and KD [Kevin Durant] and this next generation, they are the ones who came along at the right time and made it cool to play a new way. It’s their time now. And the best part is you sit back and wonder what’s going to be next? What’s the next step in the evolution of this beautiful game?
SS: That’s a great question. It seems like the envelope has been pushed so far already. It’s hard to see where it goes next. We already have giants shooting from 25 feet, something that in a previous generation would have never happened. Do we ever really see it coming? Doesn’t it just happen in the midst of whatever is already going on?
DW: True. And I think we’re going to be here in this 3-point shooting, pace-and-space age for a while longer. You’re definitely going to be in this generation for a while. But sooner or later something will click, some team, some coach or some transcendent player will come along and they’re going to change the game. I remember those Phoenix teams changed the mentality, with Mike D’Antoni, Q-Rich [Quentin Richardson], Joe Johnson and those boys running with Steve Nash. And then eventually, years later, the rest of the league caught up and it took hold on what they were trying to do before everybody else. So you really just never know where the game is going next. But rest assured wherever it goes, it’s going to a fun ride for everybody.
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.