Dwyane Wade is no Michael Jordan. In fact, when Wade Friday met reporters for the first time since signing to play for the Bulls, the Chicago native who grew up in southwest suburban Oak Lawn reiterated he, like all the kids, wanted to be like Mike. And the Bulls.
"This is one of those moments for me that is a dream come true,” insisted Wade, the three-time NBA champion and 12-time Miami Heat All-Star whose signing with the Bulls earlier this month stunned the NBA. “I’m a Chicago guy, a Chicago kid. I remember sitting on the floor and watching the Chicago Bulls win their first championship. I was nine years old. I remember looking at the TV—we had this little bitty TV, about as big as iPhones are 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.’ So my dream of becoming an NBA player started here in my hometown. I know it took a long time to get here. But I am here. I’m excited to be here. I can’t tell you guys in words what this moment means to me, what this organization since the day I have said I was coming, the support and excitement this organization and city has shown. I’m just thankful.”
But while Wade, especially at 34, is no Jordan, there probably hasn’t been an athlete–and certainly a basketball player–who has introduced himself to the city with more confidence, authority, grace and humility perhaps since Jordan.
It was a verbal and emotional slam dunk from a man who knows winning.
Wade asked reporters to mention their first names when asking questions so he could know who they are and remember the names. He spent 45 minutes answering questions with sincerity and depth, then sat for another half hour for individual interviews with TV stations. His wife, actress Gabrielle Union, mother, sister and business associates accompanied him. Wade waited patiently at the start of the press conference with Bulls general manager Gar Forman as the family members were a bit late. “Every time you’re on time you’re waiting for someone,” Wade laughed as he sat with Forman.
This came after Wade’s return from a business trip to Asia. He attended a Cubs-White Sox game, the Lollapalooza music festival, worked out at the Advocate Center, where the press conference was conducted and teammate Jimmy Butler came to watch, and walked around greeting Bulls employees with firm handshake and sincere conversation. Not that the Bulls have had unsociable players, but Wade’s personality transcended even his status in making those feel comfortable and accepted around him.
It was a rare tour de force from such an accomplished sports star.
No one, especially Wade, was predicting a championship—certainly no rally and dancing about five, six, seven like in Miami when LeBron James arrived—and no one quite knows what to expect with the union of Wade, Butler and Rajon Rondo.
But Wade was a presence not unlike Jordan in that you didn’t want to look away and couldn’t imagine what would be next.
Wade’s best years as an NBA star obviously are in the past, but the 6-4, 220 pound shooting guard averaged 19 points while playing about 30 minutes per game in 74 games for the Heat last season in his 13th with the team. That Wade left so suddenly was one of the biggest surprises of the NBA summer. He signed a two-year deal with the Bulls with an opt out after one season. Wade then averaged 21.4 points in taking Miami to a near second round playoff upset and even shot 52.2 percent on threes in the playoffs.
So while the Wade league scoring champion is seven years removed, he’s shown he still remains among the elite players in the NBA. And with Butler, an All-Star, and Rondo, a former All–Star and NBA champion, Wade isn’t dismissing what could be ahead for these Bulls of 2016-17.
I want to bring a little here to Chicago while I have a little bit left. And I still have a little bit left, by the way,” Wade said. “I’ve listened to all of you guys talk over the last couple of weeks. I know what you all have been saying (about Wade’s decline).”
Wade, incidentally, joked that his famous wife monitors and polices social media and would hold accountable media members for what they say and write. She then turned to reporters with a laugh to confirm that point.
“I want to come here and be a part of building this organization back up to where this organization should go and should be,” said Wade. “This is the first step in that direction. They didn’t have to give up any pieces and they still have flexibility to continue to make this team better. So for me, this whole signing, experiment, whatever you want to call it — it’s a win-win for me, it’s a win-win for the Chicago Bulls organization, it’s a win-win for Chicago, period. I’ve heard about the whole retooling versus rebuilding. This is an organization that doesn’t want to start from scratch and start over. This is an organization that wants to get right back into it. This is a great step in that direction. The way we play, interact as teammates, people see that and that will sell (to free agents).
“Let’s (also) clear up the notion that Pat Riley orchestrated me getting out of Miami because he didn’t offer me the money that I wanted,” added Wade. “I have no rift with Pat Riley. This year, the direction and the focus for that organization in Miami, which I have nothing but respect and love for, was a little different than it has been in years past. And with that being said, my direction and my focus was a little different than it’s been in years past. I communicated with them. This opportunity with Chicago, when I first set out to be a free agent, it wasn’t nothing that we all knew was going to happen, but it was things that happened along the way. I had a contract offer in Miami that I could have taken. It was my decision to be selfish and to live out a dream of mine. I brought a lot of excitement to Miami and it’s a home to me, it will always be. They wanted me back in Miami. I considered it, but at the end of the day I went where my heart wanted to be, and what it was telling me, and it was back home.
“I feel like a rookie all over again,” Wade said. “I’m excited as heck to play with my new teammates, I’m excited to see the growth from what they’ll get from playing with me, and I’m excited to see what I’m going to get from playing with them. Rajon Rondo is somebody I competed against so much in Boston, and we’ve had so many battles that have been very much documented and talked about. But we were competing for championships. I want to play with a guy like that. I want to play with a guy that averaged 12 assists a game. I want to play with a guy that wants to give his teammates the ball. I’m excited to play with this group. I’m excited to put on that Bulls uniform.
“There are no expectations right now,” said Wade. “That’s not fair. It’s for you (media) guys to come up with what our record will be, our shooting percentages. My job, Jimmy’s job, Rondo’s job is get out there and start working and building the team we want to see on the floor.
No one knows what that team will be. There are predictions. I don’t know how you guys can predict that. You’ve never seen us play together before. We’ve never seen each other play together before. But we know we have some special talent; we know we have some young guys who can play. We know we have to get to work and we know it’s going to take a while before we get a chance to see what it’s going to be like. All I know is I’m excited about the opportunity. I’m excited about playing with two guys I respect as competitors: Rondo is a winner; he’s won a championship before. I know Jimmy dreams about winning championships. That’s all I can focus on now. Everything else will come. I know we are going to figure it out. If you want something to work you will find ways to make it work. We will learn each other and what we need to do just like we did in Miami.”
Wade was quick to point out he wasn’t predicting some Miami repeat or that someone had to be LeBron James and someone had to be Chris Bosh.
Wade did take exception to the narratives that he used the Bulls for leverage in the 2010 free agency when James and Bosh joined him in Miami. Wade met with the Bulls twice that summer, which was why some even among the Bulls doubted he was serious this summer when his representatives said he was interested in the Bulls.
“It’s a notion out there that somehow, some way, I used the Bulls for some sort of leverage,” said Wade. “I don’t know how a 28-year-old in his prime that can be maxed out anywhere can use a team for leverage. We talked about this at dinner (with Bulls officials and family before he went to Asia). This was a place I really wanted to be. It’s a place my heart really pulled me towards. I had an opportunity of a lifetime to play with two great players in LeBron and Chris. And as hard as Chicago tried, they couldn’t get all three of us together.”
The Bulls did try.
They are reported to have had a deal on the table to send Luol Deng to the Clippers to create the cap room that would have enabled them to sign James, Wade and Bosh to join Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. The Clippers backed out at the last minute and the signings fell through and the three ended up in Miami. Could it have happened? Wade also said he was sure he was falling to No. 7 to be selected by the Bulls in the 2003 draft. He said he was hoping to play for his hometown team then. Miami made a late draft change in their thinking and took Wade at No. 5.
Of course, Wade went on to his future Hall of Fame career in Miami. But he also referred to the Heat’s 2004 acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal when asked the constant “Who’s team is it” question.
“I remember when Shaquille O’Neal came to Miami, coming from the Lakers, three championships,” noted Wade. “We had no championships at the time. I remember his press conference. I was playing in the Olympics, like Jimmy is right now. I remember Shaq said, ‘We’re not going to go through this all year. It’s Dwyane Wade’s team.’ So we’re not going to go through this all year. This is Jimmy Butler’s team. Myself and Rondo are here to bring what we bring as athletes to this team and to this city. He’s a young Bull on this team. He’s a 26-year-old that can play 40 minutes if coach wants him to and maybe more. I ain’t trying to do that. We’re going to depend on him a lot. This is a guy who I’ve known since Marquette University—great university, by the way—that I have a tremendous amount of respect for. Gar and John Paxson and everyone did an amazing job of making sure that this could happen."
“But this wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Jimmy Butler,” Wade insisted. “Jimmy Butler called me and told me he wanted me here. That was huge. At the time I didn’t know. Think about it, hometown kid Derrick Rose here and he finally leaves and (Joakim) Noah who is very known here leaves. It’s now Jimmy’s team. To want to bring in a guy like myself and Rondo shows what he’s about. He’s about winning. The individual stuff will come from that. I think Jimmy understands that. It won’t be a tug and pull about whose team it is. We’re all playing together. We all have one common goal. And that’s to win. Jimmy is going to be Jimmy Butler and I think he’ll grow because of what Rondo brings to the game and what I bring to the game.”
Wade, who apparently does read and listen to everything, also disputed the notion that the team cannot have success given he, Rondo and Butler are not three-point shooting specialists.
“The league is trending that way,” Wade acknowledged. “Obviously, every team isn’t good at that game. Golden State has been in the Finals the last two years. That’s their game. They’re good at that. I don’t think it’s for everyone to play unless you have the personnel to play it. It’s not our personnel. It’s not a game we’re going to try to play. We have guys who can make shots. I am a better three-point shooter than my number, by the way. I showed it in the playoffs. But we have our own strengths. We’re not going to come here and try to be Stephen Curry. As much as my son loves Stephen Curry, sorry, he’s not your Dad. I am. So what I’m going to do is play my game and play my game within obviously what the system is and what the team needs from me. Last time I checked, the ball has to go through the basket. I’ve been pretty successful putting it through the basket. Jimmy has been pretty successful. He’s going to be even more successful. And Rondo is going to know how to make sure he gets everybody the ball to put it in the basket. Our job is to play to our strengths. Let’s not go away from what got us here. We’re going to continue to be who we are."
He’s not the second coming of Michael Jordan. But there was some magic in the air Friday.